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Digitize(;J-l3yr|ft^;iTiternet Archive^ 

in 2BT0 with tundiing from 

National Library pf Scotland 


















{With Mrs. Stevenson) 







1887 ^^..rn-nA'^-..^ 

All rights reserved 


My dear William Ernest Henley, 

We are all busy in this world building 
Towers of Babel ; and the child of our imaginations 
is always a changeling when it comes from nurse. 
This is not only true in the greatest, as of wars and 
folios, but in the least also, like the trifling volume in 
your hand. Thus I began to write these papers with 
a definite end : I was to be the Advocatus, not I hope 
Diabolic but Juventutis; I was to state temperately 
the beliefs of youth as opposed to the contentions of 
age ; to go over all the field where the two differ, and 
produce at last a little volume of special pleadings 
which I might call, without misnomer, Life at Twenty- 
five. But times kept changing, and I shared in the 
change. I clung hard to that entrancing age ; but, 
with the best will, no man can be twenty-five for ever. 
The old, ruddy convictions deserted me, and, along 
with them, the style that fits their presentation and 
defence. I saw, and indeed my friends informed me, 
that the game was up. A good part of the volume 
would answer to the long -projected title; but the 
shadows of the prison-house are on the rest. 

vi Dedication 

It is good to have been young in youth and, as 
years go on, to grow older. Many are already old 
before they are through their teens ; but to travel 
deliberately through one's ages is to get the heart out 
of a liberal education. Times change, opinions vary 
to their opposite, and still this world appears a brave 
gymnasium, full of sea-bathing, and horse exercise, 
and bracing, manly virtues ; and what can be more 
encouraging than to find the friend who was welcome 
at one age, still welcome at another ? Our affections 
and beliefs are wiser than we ; the best that is in us 
is better than we can understand ; for it is grounded 
beyond experience, and guides us, blindfold but safe, 
from one age on to another. 

These papers are like milestones on the wayside 
of my life ; and as I look back in memory, there is 
hardly a stage of that distance but I see you present 
with advice, reproof, or praise. Meanwhile, many 
things have changed, you and I among the rest ; but 
I hope that our sympathy, founded on the love of our 
art, and nourished by mutual assistance, shall survive 
these little revolutions undiminished, and, with God's 
help, unite us to the end. 

R. L. S. 

Davos Platz, i88i. 







III. On Falling in Love. 


IV. Truth of Intercourse 


Crabbed Age and Youth 


An Apology for Idlers . 


Ordered South .... 


JEs Triplex 


El Dorado 


The English Admirals . 


Some Portraits by Raeburn . 


Child's Play 


Walking Tours .... 


Pan's Pipes 


A Plea for Gas Lamps . 




"ll^HTH the single exception of Falstaff, 
all Shakespeare's characters are what 
we call marrying men. Mercutio, as he was 
own cousin to Benedick and Biron, would 
have come to the same end in the long run. 
Even lago had a wife, and, what is far 
stranger, he was jealous. People like Jacques 
and the Fool in Lear, although we can 
hardly imagine they would ever marry, kept 
single out of a cynical humour or for a 
broken heart, and not, as we do nowadays, 
from a spirit of incredulity and preference 
for the single state. For that matter, if you 
turn to George Sand's French version of As 
You Like Lt (and I think I can promise you 


2 " Virginibus Puerisque " 

will like it but little), you will find Jacques 
marries Celia just as Orlando marries Rosalind. 
At least there seems to have been much 
less hesitation over marriage in Shakespeare's 
days ; and what hesitation there was was of 
a laughing sort, and not much more serious, 
one way or the other, than that of Pan urge. 
In modern comedies the heroes are mostly 
of Benedick's way of thinking, but twice as 
much in earnest, and not one quarter so 
confident. And I take this diffidence as a 
proof of how sincere their terror is. They 
know they are only human after all ; they 
know what gins and pitfalls lie about their 
feet ; and how the shadow of matrimony 
waits, resolute and awful, at the cross-roads. 
They would wish to keep their liberty ; but 
if that may not be, why, God's will be done ! 
"What, are you afraid of marriage?" asks 
Cecile, in Mattre Guerin. " Oh, mon Dieu, 
non !" replies Arthur ; " I should take 
chloroform." They look forward to mar- 
riage much in the same way as they prepare 
themselves for death : each seems inevitable ; 

** Virginibus Puerisque " 3 

each is a great Perhaps, and a leap into the 
dark, for which, when a man is in the blue 
devils, he has specially to harden his heart. 
That splendid scoundrel, Maxime de Trailles, 
took the news of marriages much as an old 
man hears the deaths of his contemporaries. 
" C'est desesperant," he cried, throwing him- 
self down in the arm-chair at Madame 
Schontz's ; " c'est desesperant, nous nous 
marions tous!" Every marriage was like 
another gray hair on his head ; and the jolly 
church bells seemed to taunt him with his 
fifty years and fair round belly. 

The fact is, we are much more afraid of 
life than our ancestors, and cannot find it in 
our hearts either to marry or not to marry. 
Marriage is terrifying, but so is a cold and 
forlorn old age. The friendships of men are 
vastly agreeable, but they are insecure. You 
know all the time that one friend will marry 
and put you to the door ; a second accept a 
situation in China, and become no more to 
you than a name, a reminiscence, and an 
occasional crossed letter, very laborious to 

4 " Virginibus Puerisque " 

read ; a third will take up with some religious 
crotchet and treat you to sour looks thence- 
forward. So, in one way or another, life 
forces men apart and breaks up the goodly 
fellowships for ever. The very flexibility 
and ease which make men's friendships so 
agreeable while they endure, make them the 
easier to destroy and forget. And a man 
who has a few friends, or one who has a 
dozen (if there be any one so wealthy on this 
earth), cannot forget on how precarious a 
base his happiness reposes ; and how by a 
stroke or two of fate — a death, a few light 
words, a piece of stamped paper, a woman's 
bright eyes — he may be left, in a month, 
destitute of all. Marriage is certainly a 
perilous remedy. Instead of on two or three, 
you stake your happiness on one life only. 
But still, as the bargain is more explicit and 
complete on your part, it is more so on the 
other ; and you have not to fear so many 
contingencies ; it is not every wind that can 
blow you from your anchorage ; and so long 
as Death withholds his sickle, you will always 

^'Virginibus Puerisque''' 5 

have a friend at home. People who share a 
cell in the Bastile, or are thrown together on 
an uninhabited isle, if they do not immedi- 
ately fall to fisticuffs, will find some possible 
ground of compromise. They will learn each 
other's ways and humours, so as to know 
where they must go warily, and where they 
may lean their whole weight. The discretion 
of the first years becomes the settled habit of 
the last ; and so, with wisdom and patience, 
two lives may grow indissolubly into one. 

But marriage, if comfortable, is not at all 
heroic. It certainly narrows and damps the 
spirits of generous men. In marriage, a man 
becomes slack and selfish, and undergoes a 
fatty degeneration of his moral being. It is 
not only when Lydgate misallies himself with 
Rosamond Vincy, but when Ladislaw marries 
above him with Dorothea, that this may be 
exemplified. The air of the fireside withers 
out all the fine wildings of the husband's 
heart. He is so comfortable and happy that 
he begins to prefer comfort and happiness to 
everything else on earth, his wife included. 

6 " Virginibus Puerisque " 

Yesterday he would have shared his last 
shilling ; to-day " his first duty is to his 
family," and is fulfilled in large measure by 
laying down vintages and husbanding the 
health of an invaluable parent. Twenty 
years ago this man was equally capable of 
crime or heroism ; now he is fit for neither. 
His soul is asleep, and you may speak with- 
out constraint ; you will not wake him. It 
is not for nothing that Don Quixote was a 
bachelor and Marcus Aurelius married ill. 
For women, there is less of this danger. 
Marriage is of so much use to a woman, 
opens out to her so much more of life, and 
puts her in the way of so much more freedom 
and usefulness, that, whether she marry ill 
or well, she can hardly miss some benefit. 
It is true, however, that some of the merriest 
and most genuine of women are old maids ; 
and that those old maids, and wives who are 
unhappily married, have often most of the 
true motherly touch. And this would seem 
to show, even for women, some narrowing 
influence in comfortable married life. But 

*' Virginibus Puerisque " 7 

the rule is none the less certain : if you wish 
the pick of men and women, take a good 
bachelor and a good wife. 

I am often filled with wonder that so 
many marriages are passably successful, and 
so few come to open failure, the more so as 
I fail to understand the principle on which 
people regulate their choice. I see women 
marrying indiscriminately with staring bur- 
gesses and ferret-faced, white-eyed boys, and 
men dwell in contentment with noisy scullions, 
or taking into their lives acidulous vestals. 
It is a common answer to say the good 
people marry because they fall in love ; and 
of course you may use and misuse a word as 
much as you please, if you have the world 
along with you. But love is at least a some- 
what hyperbolical expression for such luke- 
warm preference. It is not here, anyway, that 
Love employs his golden shafts ; he cannot 
be said, with any fitness of language, to reign 
here and revel. Indeed, if this be love at 
all, it is plain the poets have been fooling 
with mankind since the foundation of the 

8 ''Virginibus Puerisque'' 

world. And you have only to look these 
happy couples in the face, to see they have 
never been in love, or in hate, or in any 
other high passion, all their days. When 
you see a dish of fruit at dessert, you some- 
times set your affections upon one particular 
peach or nectarine, watch it with some anxiety 
as it comes round the table, and feel quite a 
sensible disappointment when it is taken by 
some one else. I have used the phrase 
" high passion." Well, I should say this was 
about as high a passion as generally leads to 
marriage. One husband hears after marriage 
that some poor fellow is dying of his wife's 
love. " What a pity ! " he exclaims ; " you 
know I could so easily have got another ! " 
And yet that is a very happy union. Or 
again : A young man was telling me the 
sweet story of his loves. " I like it well 
enough as long as her sisters are there," said 
this amorous swain ; " but I don't know 
what to do when we're alone." Once more : 
A married lady was debating the subject 
with another lady. "You know, dear," said 

<' Virginibus Puerisque " 9 

the first, " after ten years of marriage, if he 
is nothing else, your husband is always an 
old friend." " I have many old friends," 
returned the other, " but I prefer them to be 
nothing more." " Oh, perhaps I might /r^r 
that also!" There is a common note in 
these three illustrations of the modern idyll ; 
and it must be owned the god goes among us 
with a limping gait and blear eyes. You 
wonder whether it was so always ; whether 
desire was always equally dull and spiritless, 
and possession equally cold. I cannot help 
fancying most people make, ere thej'- marry, 
some such table of recommendations as 
Hannah Godwin wrote to her brother William 
anent her friend. Miss Gay. It is so charm- 
ingly comical, and so pat to the occasion, 
that I must quote a few phrases. "The 
young lady is in every sense formed to make 
one of your disposition really happy. She 
has a pleasing voice, with which she accom- 
panies her musical instrument with judgment. 
She has an easy politeness in her manners, 
neither free nor reserved. She is a good 

10 '' Virginibus Puerzsque " 

housekeeper and a good economist, and yet 
of a generous disposition. As to her internal 
accomplishments, I have reason to speak still 
more highly of them : good sense without 
vanity, a penetrating judgment without a 
disposition to satire, with about as much 
religion as my William likes, struck me with 
a wish that she was my William's wife." 
That is about the tune : pleasing voice, 
moderate good looks, unimpeachable internal 
accomplishments after the style of the copy- 
book, with about as much religion as my 
William likes ; and then, with all speed, to 

To deal plainly, if they only married when 
they fell in love, most people would die 
unwed ; and among the others, there would 
be not a few tumultuous households. The 
Lion is the King of Beasts, but he is scarcely 
suitable for a domestic pet. In the same 
way, I suspect love is rather too violent a 
passion to make, in all cases, a good domestic 
sentiment. Like other violent excitements, 
it throws up not only what is best, but what 

" Virginibus Puerisque " 1 1 

is worst and smallest, in men's characters. 
Just as some people are malicious in drink, 
or brawling and virulent under the influence 
of religious feeling, some are moody, jealous, 
and exacting when they are in love, who 
are honest, downright, good -hearted fellows 
enough in the everyday affairs and humours 
of the world. 

How then, seeing we are driven to the 
hypothesis that people choose in compara- 
tively cold blood, how is it they choose so 
well ? One is almost tempted to hint that 
it does not much matter whom you marry ; 
that, in fact, marriage is a subjective affec- 
tion, and if you have made up your mind to 
it, and once talked yourself fairly over, you 
could " pull it through " with anybody. But 
even if we take matrimony at its lowest, even 
if we regard it as no more than a sort of 
friendship recognised by the police, there 
must be degrees in the freedom and sym- 
pathy realised, and some principle to guide 
simple folk in their selection. Now what 
should this principle be ? Are there no 

12 * ' Virginibus Puerisque ' ' 

more definite rules than are to be found in 
the Prayer-book ? Law and religion forbid 
the bans on the ground of propinquity or 
consanguinity ; society steps in to separate 
classes ; and in all this most critical matter, 
has common sense, has wisdom, never a 
word to say ? In the absence of more 
magisterial teaching, let us talk it over 
between friends : even a few guesses may be 
of interest to youths and maidens. 

In all that concerns eating and drinking, 
company, climate, and ways of life, com- 
munity of taste is to be sought for. It 
would be trying, for instance, to keep bed 
and board with an early riser or a vegetarian. 
In matters of art and intellect, I believe it 
is of no consequence. Certainly it is of 
none in the companionships of men, who 
will dine more readily with one who has a 
good heart, a good cellar, and a humorous 
tongue, than with another who shares all 
their favourite hobbies and is melancholy 
withal. If your wife likes Tupper, that is 
no reason why you should hang your head. 

" Virginibus Puerisque " 13 

She thinks with the majority, and has the 
courage of her opinions. I have always 
suspected public taste to be a mongrel pro- 
duct, out of affectation by dogmatism ; and 
felt sure, if you could only find an honest 
man of no special literary bent, he would tell 
you he thought much of Shakespeare bom- 
bastic and most absurd, and all of him 
written in very obscure English and weari- 
some to read. And not long ago I was 
able to lay by my lantern in content, for I 
found the honest man. He was a fellow of 
parts, quick, humorous, a clever painter, and 
with an eye for certain poetical effects of 
sea and ships. I am not much of a judge 
of that kind of thing, but a sketch of his 
comes before me sometimes at night. How 
strong, supple, and living the ship seems 
upon the billows ! With what a dip and 
rake she shears the flying sea ! I cannot 
fancy the man who saw this effect, and took 
it on the wing with so much force and spirit, 
was what you call commonplace in the last 
recesses of the heart. And yet he thought, 

14 " Virginibus Puerisque " 

and was not ashamed to have it known of 
him, that Ouida was better in every way 
than William Shakespeare. If there were 
more people of his honesty, this would be 
about the staple of lay criticism. It is not 
taste that is plentiful, but courage that is 
rare. And what have we in place ? How 
many, who think no otherwise than the 
young painter, have we not heard disbursing 
second-hand hyperboles ? Have you never 
turned sick at heart, O best of critics ! when 
some of your own sweet adjectives were 
returned on you before a gaping audience ? 
Enthusiasm about art is become a function 
of the average female being, which she per- 
forms with precision and a sort of haunting 
sprightliness, like an ingenious and well- 
regulated machine. Sometimes, alas ! the 
calmest man is carried away in the torrent, 
bandies adjectives with the best, and out- 
Herods Herod for some shameful moments. 
When you remember that, you will be 
tempted to put things strongly, and say you 
will marry no one who is not like George 

*' Virginibus Puerisque " 15 

the Second, and cannot state openly a dis- 
taste for poetry and painting. 

The word " facts " is, in some ways, crucial. 
I have spoken with Jesuits and Plymouth 
Brethren, mathematicians and poets, dogmatic 
republicans and dear old gentlemen in bird's- 
eye neckcloths ; and each understood the 
word " facts " in an occult sense of his own. 
Try as I might, I could get no nearer the 
principle of their division. What was essen- 
tial to them, seemed to me trivial or untrue. 
We could come to no compromise as to 
what was, or what was not, important in the 
life of man. Turn as we pleased, we all 
stood back to back in a big ring, and saw 
another quarter of the heavens, with different 
mountain-tops along the sky-line and different 
constellations overhead. We had each of us 
some whimsy in the brain, which we believed 
more than anything else, and which dis- 
coloured all experience to its own shade. 
How would you have people agree, when 
one is deaf and the other blind ? Now this 
is where there should be community between 

1 6 ''Virginibus Puerisque'' 

man and wife. They should be agreed on 
their catchword in ''facts of religion^' or 
''facts of science" or " society j my dear'' ; for 
without such an agreement all intercourse is 
a painful strain upon the mind. " About as 
much religion as my William likes," in short, 
that is what is necessary to make a happy 
couple of any William and his spouse. For 
there are differences which no habit nor 
affection can reconcile, and the Bohemian 
must not intermarry with the Pharisee. 
Imagine Consuelo as Mrs. Samuel Budget, 
the wife of the successful merchant! The 
best of men and the best of women may 
sometimes live together all their lives, and, 
for want of some consent on fundamental 
questions, hold each other lost spirits to the 

A certain sort of talent is almost indis- 
pensable for people who would spend years 
together and not bore themselves to death. 
But the talent, like the agreement, must be 
for and about life. To dwell happily 
together, they should be versed in the 

" Virginibus Puerisque " 17 

niceties of the heart, and born with a faculty 
for willing compromise. The woman must 
be talented as a woman, and it will not 
much matter although she is talented in 
nothing else. She must know her metier de 
femme^ and have a fine touch for the affec- 
tions. And it is more important that a 
person should be a good gossip, and talk 
pleasantly and smartly of common friends 
and the thousand and one nothings of the 
day and hour, than that she should speak 
with the tongues of men and angels ; for a 
while together by the fire, happens more 
frequently in marriage than the presence of 
a distinguished foreigner to dinner. That 
people should laugh over the same sort of 
jests, and have many a story of " grouse in 
the gun-room," many an old joke between 
them which time cannot wither nor custom 
stale, is a better preparation for life, by your 
leave, than many other things higher and 
better sounding in the world's ears. You " 
could read Kant by yourself, if you wanted ; 

but you must share a joke with some one 

1 8 * ' Virginibus Puerisque ' ' 

else. You can forgive people who do not 
follow you through a philosophical disquisi- 
tion ; but to find your wife laughing when 
you had tears in your eyes, or staring when 
you were in a fit of laughter, would go some 
way towards a dissolution of the marriage. 

I know a woman who, from some distaste 
or disability, could never so much as under- 
stand the meaning of the word politics, and 
has given up trying to distinguish Whigs 
from Tories ; but take her on her own 
politics, ask her about other men or women 
and the chicanery of everyday existence — 
the rubs, the tricks, the vanities on which 
life turns — and you will not find many more 
shrewd, trenchant, and humorous. Nay, to 
make plainer what I have in mind, this same 
woman has a share of the higher and more 
poetical understanding, frank interest in 
things for their own sake, and enduring 
astonishment at the most common. She is 
not to be deceived by custom, or made to 
think a mystery solved when it is repeated. 
I have heard her say she could wonder her- 

'' Virginibus Puerisque " 19 

self crazy over the human eyebrow. Now 
in a world where most of us walk very con- 
tentedly in the little lit circle of their own 
reason, and have to be reminded of what lies 
without by specious and clamant exceptions 
— earthquakes, eruptions of Vesuvius, banjos 
floating in mid- air at a seance^ and the like 
— a mind so fresh and unsophisticated is no 
despicable gift. I will own I think it a 
better sort of mind than goes necessarily 
with the clearest views on public business. 
It will wash. It will find something to say 
at an odd moment. It has in it the spring 
of pleasant and quaint fancies. Whereas I 
can imagine myself yawning all night long 
until my jaws ached and the tears came into 
my eyes, although my companion on the 
other side of the hearth held the most en- 
lightened opinions on the franchise or the 

The question of professions, in as far as 
they regard marriage, was only interesting 
to women until of late days, but it touches 
all of us now. Certainly, if I could help it, 

20 " Virginibus Puerisque " 

I would never marry a wife who wrote. 
The practice of letters is miserably harassing 
to the mind ; and after an hour or two's 
work, all the more human portion of the 
author is extinct ; he will bully, backbite, 
and speak daggers. Music, I hear, is not 
much better. But painting, on the contrary, 
is often highly sedative ; because so much 
of the labour, after your picture is once 
begun, is almost entirely manual, and of that 
skilled sort of manual labour which offers a 
continual series of successes, and so tickles 
a man, through his vanity, into good humour. 
Alas ! in letters there is nothing of this sort. 
You may write as beautiful a hand as you 
will, you have always something else to think 
of, and cannot pause to notice your loops 
and flourishes ; they are beside the mark, 
and the first law stationer could put you to 
the blush. Rousseau, indeed, made some 
account of penmanship, even made it a 
source of livelihood, when he copied out the 
Helo'ise for dilettante ladies ; and therein 
showed that strange eccentric prudence which 

'' Virginibus Puerisque " 21 

guided him among so many thousand follies 
and insanities. It would be well for all of 
the genus irritabile thus to add something of 
skilled labour to intangible brain-work. To 
find the right word is so doubtful a success 
and lies so near to failure, that there is no 
satisfaction in a year of it ; but we all know 
when we have formed a letter perfectly ; 
and a stupid artist, right or wrong, is almost 
equally certain he has found a right tone or 
a right colour, or made a dexterous stroke 
with his brush. And, again, painters may 
work out of doors ; and the fresh air, the 
deliberate seasons, and the " tranquillising 
influence " of the green earth, counterbalance 
the fever of thought, and keep them cool, 
placable, and prosaic. 

A ship captain is a good man to marry if 
it is a marriage of love, for absences are a 
good influence in love and keep it bright 
and delicate ; but he is just the worst 
man if the feeling is more pedestrian, as 
habit is too frequently torn open and the 
solder has never time to set. Men who fish, 

2 2 ^' Virginibus Puerisque'' 

botanise, work with the turning-lathe, or 
gather sea-weeds, will make admirable hus- 
bands ; and a little amateur painting in 
water-colour shows the innocent and quiet 
mind. Those who have a few intimates are 
to be avoided ; while those who swim loose, 
who have their hat in their hand all along 
the street, who can number an infinity of 
acquaintances and are not chargeable with 
any one friend, promise an easy disposition 
and no rival to the wife's influence. I will 
not say they are the best of men, but they 
are the stuff out of which adroit and capable 
women manufacture the best of husbands. 
It is to be noticed that those who have loved 
once or twice already are so much the better 
educated to a woman's hand ; the bright boy 
of fiction is an odd and most uncomfortable 
mixture of shyness and coarseness, and needs 
a deal of civilising. Lastly (and this is, 
perhaps, the golden rule), no woman should 
marry a teetotaller, or a man who does not 
smoke. It is not for nothing that this 
" ignoble tabagie," as Michelet calls it, spreads 

* * Virginibus Puerisque " 23 

over all the world. Michelet rails against 
it because it renders you happy apart from 
thought or work ; to provident women this 
will seem no evil influence in married life. 
Whatever keeps a man in the front garden, 
whatever checks wandering fancy and all 
inordinate ambition, whatever makes for 
lounging and contentment, makes just so 
surely for domestic happiness. 

These notes, if they amuse the reader at 
all, will probably amuse him more when he 
differs than when he agrees with them ; at 
least they will do no harm, for nobody will 
follow my advice. But the last word is of 
more concern. Marriage is a step so grave 
and decisive that it attracts light-headed, 
variable men by its very awfulness. They 
have been so -tried among the inconstant 
squalls and currents, so often sailed for 
islands in the air or lain becalmed with 
burning heart, that they will risk all for solid 
ground below their feet. Desperate pilots, 
they run their sea-sick, weary bark upon the 
dashing rocks. It seems as if marriage were 

24 ' ' Virginibus Puerisque ' ' 

the royal road through life, and realised, on 
the instant, what we have all dreamed on 
summer Sundays when the bells ring, or at 
night when we cannot sleep for the desire of 
living. They think it will sober and change 
them. Like those who join a brotherhood, 
they fancy it needs but an act to be out of 
the coil and clamour for ever. But this 
is a wile of the devil's. To the end, spring 
winds will sow disquietude, passing faces 
leave a regret behind them, and the whole 
world keep calling and calling in their ears. 
For marriage is like life in this — that it is a 
field of battle, and not a bed of roses. 

*' Virginibus Puerisque " 25 


Hope, they say, deserts us at no period of 
our existence. From first to last, and in the 
face of smarting disillusions, we continue to 
expect good fortune, better health, and better 
conduct ; and that so confidently, that we 
judge it needless to deserve them. I think 
it improbable that I shall ever write like 
Shakespeare, conduct an army like Hannibal, 
or distinguish myself like Marcus Aurelius in 
the paths of virtue ; and yet I have my by- 
days, hope prompting, when I am very ready 
to believe that I shall combine all these 
various excellences in my own person, and 
go marching down to posterity with divine 
honours. There is nothing so monstrous but 
we can believe it of ourselves. About our- 
selves, about our aspirations and delinquencies. 

26 '' Virginibus Puerisque'' 

we have dwelt by choice in a delicious vague- 
ness from our boyhood up. No one will 
have forgotten Tom Sawyer's aspiration : 
"Ah, if he could only die temporarily T 
Or, perhaps, better still, the inward resolution 
of the two pirates, that "so long as they 
remained in that business, their piracies 
should not again be sullied with the crime of 
stealing." Here we recognise the thoughts 
of our boyhood ; and our boyhood ceased — 
well, when ? — not, I think, at twenty ; nor, 
perhaps, altogether at twenty- five ; nor yet 
at thirty ; and possibly, to be quite frank, we 
are still in the thick of that arcadian period. 
For as the race of man, after centuries of 
civilisation, still keeps some traits of their 
barbarian fathers, so man the individual is 
not altogether quit of youth, when he is 
already old and honoured, and Lord Chan- 
cellor of England. We advance in years 
somewhat in the manner of an invading 
army in a barren land ; the age that we have 
reached, as the phrase goes, we but hold 
with an outpost, and still keep open our 

''Virginibus Puerisque^^ 27 

communications with the extreme rear and 
first beginnings of the march. There is our 
true base ; that is not only the beginning, 
but the perennial spring of our faculties ; and 
grandfather William can retire upon occasion 
into the green enchanted forest of his boy- 

The unfading boyishness of hope and its 
vigorous irrationality are nowhere better dis- 
played than in questions of conduct. There 
is a character in the Pilgrim's Progress, one 
Mr. Linger-after- Lust with whom I fancy we 
are all on speaking terms ; one famous among 
the famous for ingenuity of hope up to and 
beyond the moment of defeat ; one who, 
after eighty years of contrary experience, will 
believe it possible to continue in the business 
of piracy and yet avoid the guilt of theft. 
Every sin is our last ; every ist of January 
a remarkable turning-point in our career. 
Any overt act, above all, is felt to be alchemic 
in its power to change. A drunkard takes 
the pledge ; it will be strange if that does 
not help him. For how many years did Mr. 

28 ^^Virginibus Puerisque^' 

Pepys continue to make and break his little 
vows ? And yet I have not heard that he 
was discouraged in the end. By such steps 
we think to fix a momentary resolution ; as 
a timid fellow hies him to the dentist's while 
the tooth is stinging. 

But, alas, by planting a stake at the top 
of flood, you can neither prevent nor delay 
the inevitable ebb. There is no hocus-pocus 
in morality ; and even the " sanctimonious 
ceremony " of marriage leaves the man un- 
changed. This is a hard saying, and has an 
air of paradox. For there is something in 
marriage so natural and inviting, that the 
step has an air of great simplicity and ease ; 
it offers to bury for ever many aching pre- 
occupations ; it is to afford us unfailing and 
familiar company through life ; it opens up a 
smiling prospect of the blest and passive kind 
of love, rather than the blessing and active ; 
it is approached not only through the delights 
of courtship, but by a public performance 
and repeated legal signatures. A man 
naturally thinks it will go hard with him if 

' ' Virginibus Puerisque " 29 

he cannot be good and fortunate and happy 
within such august circumvallations. 

And yet there is probably no other act in 
a man's Hfe so hot-headed and foolhardy as 
this one of marriage. For years, let us 
suppose, you have been making the most 
indifferent business of your career. Your ex- 
perience has not, we may dare to say, been 
more encouraging than Paul's or Horace's ; 
like them, you have seen and desired the good 
that you were not able to accomplish ; like 
them, you have done the evil that you 
loathed. You have waked at night in a hot 
or a cold sweat, according to your habit of 
body, remembering, with dismal surprise, 
your own unpardonable acts and sayings. 
You have been sometimes tempted to with- 
draw entirely from this game of life ; as a 
man who makes nothing but misses with- 
draws from that less dangerous one of billiards. 
You have fallen back upon the thought that 
you yourself most sharply smarted for your 
misdemeanours, or, in the old, plaintive phrase, 
that you were nobody's enemy but your own. 

30 '' Virginibus Puerisque'' 

And then you have been made aware of 
what was beautiful and amiable, wise and 
kind, in the other part of your behaviour ; 
and it seemed as if nothing could reconcile 
the contradiction, as indeed nothing can. If 
you are a man, you have shut your mouth 
hard and said nothing ; and if you are only 
a man in the making, you have recognised 
that yours was quite a special case, and you 
yourself not guilty of your own pestiferous 

Granted, and with all my heart. Let us 
accept these apologies ; let us agree that you 
are nobody's enemy but your own ; let us 
agree that you are a sort of moral cripple, 
impotent for good ; and let us regard you 
with the unmingled pity due to such a fate. 
But there is one thing to which, on these 
terms, we can never agree : — we can never 
agree to have you marry. What! you have 
had one life to manage, and have failed so 
strangely, and now can see nothing wiser 
than to conjoin with it the management of 
some one else's ? Because you have been 

'^Virginibus Puerisque'' 31 

unfaithful in a very little, you propose your- 
self to be a ruler over ten cities. You strip 
yourself by such a step of all remaining con- 
solations and excuses. You are no longer 
content to be your own enemy ; you must be 
your wife's also. You have been hitherto in 
a mere subaltern attitude ; dealing cruel 
blows about you in life, yet only half respon- 
sible, since you came there by no choice or 
movement of your own. Now, it appears, 
you must take things on your own authority : 
God made you, but you marry yourself; and 
for all that your wife suffers, no one is respon- 
sible but you. A man must be very certain 
of his knowledge ere he undertake to guide 
a ticket-of-leave man through a dangerous 
pass ; you have eternally missed your way in 
life, with consequences that you still deplore, 
and yet you masterfully seize your wife's 
hand, and, blindfold, drag her after you to 
ruin. And it is your wife, you observe, 
whom you select. She, whose happiness you 
most desire, you choose to be your victim. 
You would earnestly warn her from a totter- 

32 " Virginibus Puerisque '* 

ing bridge or bad investment If she were 
to marry some one else, how you would 
tremble for her fate ! If she were only your 
sister, and you thought half as much of her, 
how doubtfully would you entrust her future 
to a man no better than yourself! 

Times are changed with him who marries ; 
there are no more by-path meadows, where 
you may innocently linger, but the road lies 
long and straight and dusty to the grave. 
Idleness, which is often becoming and even 
wise in the bachelor, begins to wear a differ- 
ent aspect when you have a wife to support. 
Suppose, after you are married, one of those 
little slips were to befall you. What happened 
last November might surely happen February 
next. They may have annoyed you at the 
time, because they were not what you had 
meant ; but how will they annoy you in the 
future, and how will they shake the fabric of 
your wife's confidence and peace ! A thou- 
sand things un pleasing went on in the chiar- 
osciiro of a life that you shrank from too 
particularly realising ; you did not care, in 

' ' Virginibus Puerisque " 33 

those days, to make a fetish of your con- 
science ; you would recognise your failures 
with a nod, and so, good day. But the time 
for these reserves is over. You have wilfully 
introduced a witness into your life, the scene 
of these defeats, and can no longer close the 
mind's eye upon uncomely passages, but 
must stand up straight and put a name upon 
your actions. And your witness is not only 
the judge, but the victim of your sins ; not 
only can she condemn you to the sharpest 
penalties, but she must herself share feelingly 
in their endurance. And observe, once more, 
with what temerity you have chosen precisely 
her to be your spy, whose esteem you value 
highest, and whom you have already taught 
to think you better than you are. You may 
think you had a conscience, and believed in 
God ; but what is a conscience to a wife ? 
Wise men of yore erected statues of their 
deities, and consciously performed their part 
in life before those marble eyes. A god 
watched them at the board, and stood by 

their bedside in the morning when they 

34 * ' Virgimbus Puerisque " 

woke ; and all about their ancient cities, 
where they bought and sold, or where they 
piped and wrestled, there would stand some 
symbol of the things that are outside of man. 
These were lessons, delivered in the quiet 
dialect of art, which told their story faithfully, 
but gently. It is the same lesson, if you 
will — but how harrowingly taught ! — when 
the woman you respect shall weep from your 
unkindness or blush with shame at your mis- 
conduct. Poor girls in Italy turn their 
painted Madonnas to the wall : you cannot 
set aside your wife. To marry is to domes- 
ticate the Recording Angel. Once you are 
married, there is nothing left for you, not 
even suicide, but to be good. 

And goodness in marriage is a more 
intricate problem than mere single virtue ; 
for in marriage there are two ideals to be 
realised. A girl, it is true, has always lived 
in a glass house among reproving relatives, 
whose word was law ; she has been bred up 
to sacrifice her judgments and take the key 
submissively from dear papa ; and it is won- 

*' Virginibus Ptierisque " 35 

derful how swiftly she can change her tune 
into the husband's. Her morality has been, 
too often, an affair of precept and conformity. 
But in the case of a bachelor who has 
enjoyed some measure both of privacy and 
freedom, his moral judgments have been 
passed in some accordance with his nature. 
His sins were always sins in his own sight ; 
he could then only sin when he did some 
act against his clear conviction ; the light 
that he walked by was obscure, but it was 
single. Now, when two people of any grit 
and spirit put their fortunes into one, there 
succeeds to this comparative certainty a huge 
welter of competing jurisdictions. It no 
longer matters so much how life appears to 
one ; one must consult another : one, who 
may be strong, must not offend the other, 
who is weak. The only weak brother I am 
willing to consider is (to make a bull for 
once) my wife. For her, and for her only, I 
must waive my righteous judgments, and go 
crookedly about my life. How, then, in 
such an atmosphere of compromise, to keep 

36 '^Virginibus Puerisque" 

honour bright and abstain from base capitu- 
lations ? How are you to put aside love's 
pleadings ? How are you, the apostle of 
laxity, to turn suddenly about into the rabbi 
of precision ; and after these years of ragged 
practice, pose for a hero to the lackey who 
has found you out? In this temptation to 
mutual indulgence lies the particular peril to 
morality in married life. Daily they drop a 
little lower from the first ideal, and for a 
while continue to accept these changelings 
with a gross complacency. At last Love 
wakes and looks about him ; finds his hero 
sunk into a stout old brute, intent on brandy 
pawnee ; finds his heroine divested of her 
angel brightness ; and in the flash of that 
first disenchantment, flees for ever. 

Again, the husband, in these unions, is 
usually a man, and the wife commonly 
enough a woman ; and when this is the case, 
although it makes the firmer marriage, a 
thick additional veil of misconception hangs 
above the doubtful business. Women, I 
believe, are somewhat rarer than men ; but 

<' Virginibus Puerisque " 37 

then, if I were a woman myself, I daresay I 
should hold the reverse ; and at least we all 
enter more or less wholly into one or other 
of these camps. A man who delights 
women by his feminine perceptions will 
often scatter his admirers by a chance 
explosion of the under side of man ; and the 
most masculine and direct of women will 
some day, to your dire surprise, draw out 
like a telescope into successive lengths of 
personation. Alas ! for the man, knowing 
her to be at heart more candid than himself, 
who shall flounder, panting, through these 
mazes in the quest for truth. The proper 
qualities of each sex are, indeed, eternally 
surprising to the other. Between the Latin 
and the Teuton races there are similar diver- 
gences, not to be bridged by the most liberal 
sympathy. And in the good, plain, cut-and- 
dry explanations of this life, which pass 
current among us as the wisdom of the 
elders, this difficulty has been turned with 
the aid of pious lies. Thus, when a young 
lady has angelic features, eats nothing to 

38 ** Virginibus Puerisque " 

speak of, plays all day long on the piano, 
and sings ravishingly in church, it requires 
a rough infidelity, falsely called cynicism, to 
believe that she may be a little devil after 
all. Yet so it is : she may be a tale-bearer, 
a liar, and a thief; she may have a taste for 
brandy, and no heart. My compliments to 
George Eliot for her Rosamond Vincy ; the 
ugly work of satire she has transmuted to 
the ends of art, by the companion figure of 
Lydgate ; and the satire was much wanted 
for the education of young men. That 
doctrine of the excellence of women, however 
chivalrous, is cowardly as well as false. It 
is better to face the fact, and know, when 
you marry, that you take into your life a 
creature of equal, if of unlike, frailties ; whose 
weak human heart beats no more tunefully 
than yours. 

But it is the object of a liberal education 
not only to obscure the knowledge of one 
sex by another, but to magnify the natural 
differences between the two. Man is a 
creature who lives not upon bread alone, but 

" Virginibus Puerisque " 39 

principally by catchwords ; and the little rift 
between the sexes is astonishingly widened 
by simply teaching one set of catchwords to 
the girls and another to the boys. To the 
first, there is shown but a very small field of 
experience, and taught a very trenchant 
principle for judgment and action ; to the 
other, the world of life is more largely dis- 
played, and their rule of conduct is propor- 
tionally widened. They are taught to follow 
different virtues, to hate different vices, to 
place their ideal, even for each other, in 
different achievements. What should be the 
result of such a course ? When a horse has 
run away, and the two flustered people in 
the gig have each possessed themselves of a 
rein, we know the end of that conveyance 
will be in the ditch. So, when I see a raw 
youth and a green girl, fluted and fiddled in 
a dancing measure into that most serious 
contract, and setting out upon life's journey 
with ideas so monstrously divergent, I am 
not surprised that some make shipwreck, but 
that any come to port. What the boy does 

40 *' Virginibus Puerisque " 

almost proudly, as a manly peccadillo, the 
girl will shudder at as a debasing vice ; what 
is to her the mere common sense of tactics, 
he will spit out of his mouth as shameful. 
Through such a sea of contrarieties must this 
green couple steer their way ; and contrive 
to love each other ; and to respect, forsooth ; 
and be ready, when the time arrives, to 
educate the little men and women who shall 
succeed to their places and perplexities. 

And yet, when all has been said, the man 
who should hold back from marriage is in 
the same case with him who runs away from 
battle. To avoid an occasion for our virtues 
is a worse degree of failure than to push 
forward pluckily and make a fall. It is 
lawful to pray God that we be not led into 
temptation ; but not lawful to skulk from 
those that come to us. The noblest passage 
in one of the noblest books of this century, 
is where the old pope glories in the trial, nay, 
in the partial fall and but imperfect triumph, 
of the younger hero.^ Without some such 

1 Browning's Rmg and Book. 

'' Virginibus Puerisque " 41 

manly note, it were perhaps better to have 
no conscience at all. But there is a vast 
difference between teaching flight, and show- 
ing points of peril that a man may march 
the more warily. And the true conclusion 
of this paper is to turn our back on appre- 
hensions, and embrace that shining and 
courageous virtue, Faith. Hope is the boy, 
a blind, headlong, pleasant fellow, good to 
chase swallows with the salt ; Faith is the 
grave, experienced, yet smiling man. Hope 
lives on ignorance ; open-eyed Faith is built 
upon a knowledge of our life, of the tyranny 
of circumstance and the frailty of human 
resolution. Hope looks for unqualified 
success ; but Faith counts certainly on 
failure, and takes honourable defeat to be a 
form of victory. Hope is a kind old pagan ; 
but Faith grew up in Christian days, and 
early learnt humility. In the one temper, a 
man is indignant that he cannot spring up 
in a clap to heights of elegance and virtue ; 
in the other, out of a sense of his infirmities, 
he is filled with confidence because a year 

42 " Virginibus Puerisque " 

has come and gone, and he has still preserved 
some rags of honour. In the first, he expects 
an angel for a wife ; in the last, he knows 
that she is like himself — erring, thoughtless, 
and untrue ; but like himself also, filled with 
a struggling radiancy of better things, and 
adorned with ineffective qualities. You may 
safely go to school with hope ; but ere you 
marry, should have learned the mingled 
lesson of the world : that dolls are stuffed 
with sawdust, and yet are excellent play- 
things ; that hope and love address them- 
selves to a perfection never realised, and yet, 
firmly held, become the salt and staff of life ; 
that you yourself are compacted of infirmities, 
perfect, you might say, in imperfection, and 
yet you have a something in you lovable and 
worth preserving ; and that, while the mass 
of mankind lies under this scurvy condemna- 
tion, you will scarce find one but, by some 
generous reading, will become to you a lesson, 
a model, and a noble spouse through life. 
So thinking, you will constantly support 
your own unworthiness, and easily forgive 

'' Virginibus Puerisque'' 43 

the failings of your friend. Nay, you will be 
wisely glad that you retain the sense of 
blemishes ; for the faults of married people 
continually spur up each of them, hour by 
hour, to do better and to meet and love 
upon a higher ground. And ever, between 
the failures, there will come glimpses of kind 
virtues to encourage and console. 

.44 ^'Virginibus Puerisque 


" Lord, what fools these mortals be !" 

There is only one event in life which really 
astonishes a man and startles him out of his 
prepared opinions. Everything else befalls 
him very much as he expected. Event 
succeeds to event, with an agreeable variety 
indeed, but with little that is either startling 
or intense ; they form together no more than 
a sort of background, or running accompani- 
ment to the man's own reflections ; and he 
falls naturally into a cool, curious, and smiling 
habit of mind, and builds himself up in a 
conception of life which expects to-morrow 
to be after the pattern of to-day and yester- 
day. He may be accustomed to the vagaries 
of his friends and acquaintances under the 
influence of love. He may sometimes look 

^^Virginibus Puerisque'' 45 

forward to it for himself with an incompre- 
hensible expectation. But it is a subject in 
which neither intuition nor the behaviour of 
others will help the philosopher to the truth. 
There is probably nothing rightly thought or 
rightly written on this matter of love that is 
not a piece of the person's experience. I 
remember an anecdote of a well-known 
French theorist, who was debating a point 
eagerly in his cenacle. It was objected 
against him that he had never experienced 
love. Whereupon he arose, left the society, 
and made it a point not to return to it until 
he considered that he had supplied the defect 
" Now," he remarked, on entering, " now I 
am in a position to continue the discussion." 
Perhaps he had not penetrated very deeply 
into the subject after all ; but the story in- 
dicates right thinking, and may serve as an 
apologue to readers of this essay. 

When at last the scales fall from his eyes, 
it is not without something of the nature of 
dismay that the man finds himself in such 
changed conditions. He has to deal with 

46 " Virginibus Puerisque " 

commanding emotions instead of the easy 
dislikes and preferences in which he has 
hitherto passed his days ; and he recognises 
capabilities for pain and pleasure of which 
he had not yet suspected the existence. 
Falling in love is the one illogical adventure, 
the one thing of which we are tempted to 
think as supernatural, in our trite and reason- 
able world. The effect is out of all proportion 
with the cause. Two persons, neither of 
them, it may be, very amiable or very 
beautiful, meet, speak a little, and look a 
little into each other's eyes. That has been 
done a dozen or so of times in the experience 
of either with no great result But on this 
occasion all is different. They fall at once 
into that state in which another person 
becomes to us the very gist and centrepoint 
of God's creation, and demolishes our laborious 
theories with a smile ; in which our ideas 
are so bound up with the one master-thought 
that even the trivial cares of our own person 
become so many acts of devotion, and the 
love of life itself is translated into a wish to 

" Virginibus Puensque " 47 

remain in the same world with so precious 
and desirable a fellow-creature. And all 
the while their acquaintances look on in 
stupor, and ask each other, with almost 
passionate emphasis, what so-and-so can see 
in that woman, or such-an-one in that man ? 
I am sure, gentlemen, I cannot tell you. 
For my part, I cannot think what the women 
mean. It might be very well, if the Apollo 
Belvedere should suddenly glow all over into 
life, and step forward from the pedestal with 
that godlike air of his. But of the misbe- 
gotten changelings who call themselves men, 
and prate intolerably over dinner-tables, I 
never saw one who seemed worthy to inspire 
love — no, nor read of any, except Leonardo 
da Vinci, and perhaps Goethe in his youth. 
About women I entertain a somewhat differ- 
ent opinion ; but there, I have the misfortune 
to be a man. 

There are many matters in which you 
may waylay Destiny, and bid him stand and 
deliver. Hard work, high thinking, adven- 
turous excitement, and a great deal more 

48 " Virginibus Puerisque 

that forms a part of this or the other person's 
spiritual bill of fare, are within the reach of 
almost any one who can dare a little and be 
patient. But it is by no means in the way 
of every one to fall in love. You know the 
difficulty Shakespeare was put into when 
Queen Elizabeth asked him to show Falstaff 
in love. I do not believe that Henry Fielding 
was ever in love. Scott, if it were not for a 
passage or two in Rob Roy, would give me 
very much the same effect. These are great 
names and (what is more to the purpose) 
strong, healthy, high-strung, and generous 
natures, of whom the reverse might have 
been expected. As for the innumerable 
army of anaemic and tailorish persons who 
occupy the face of this planet with so much 
propriety, it is palpably absurd to imagine 
them in any such situation as a love-affair. 
A wet rag goes safely by the fire ; and if a 
man is blind, he cannot expect to be much 
impressed by romantic scenery. Apart from 
all this, many lovable people miss each other 
in the world, or meet under some unfavour- 

" Virginibus Puerisque " 49 

able star. There is the nice and critical 
moment of declaration to be got over. From 
timidity or lack of opportunity a good half 
of possible love cases never get so far, and 
at least another quarter do there cease and 
determine. A very adroit person, to be sure, 
manages to prepare the way and out with 
his declaration in the nick of time. And 
then there is a fine solid sort of man, who 
goes on from snub to snub ; and if he has to 
declare forty times, will continue imperturb> 
ably declaring, amid the astonished considera- 
tion of men and angels, until he has a 
favourable answer. I daresay, if one were 
a woman, one would like to marry a man 
who was capable of doing this, but not quite 
one who had done so. It is just a little bit 
abject, and somehow just a little bit gross ; 
and marriages in which one of the parties 
has been thus battered into consent scarcely 
form agreeable subjects for meditation. Love 
should run out to meet love with open arms. 
Indeed, the ideal story is that of two people 
who go into love step for step, with a fluttered 

so '' Virginibus Puerisque " 

consciousness, like a pair of children ventur- 
ing together into a dark room. From the 
first moment when they see each other, with 
a pang of curiosity, through stage after stage 
of growing pleasure and embarrassment, they 
can read the expression of their own trouble 
in each other's eyes. There is here no decla- 
ration properly so called ; the feeling is so 
plainly shared, that as soon as the man knows 
what it is in his own heart, he is sure of what 
it is in the woman's. 

This simple accident of falling in love is 
as beneficial as it is astonishing. It arrests 
the petrifying influence of years, disproves 
cold-blooded and cynical conclusions, and 
awakens dormant sensibilities. Hitherto the 
man had found it a good policy to disbelieve 
the existence of any enjoyment which was 
out of his reach ; and thus he turned his 
back upon the strong sunny parts of nature, 
and accustomed himself to look exclusively 
on what was common and dull. He accepted 
a prose ideal, let himself go blind of many 
sympathies by disuse ; and if he were young 

" Virginibus Puerisque " 51 

and witty, or beautiful, wilfully forewent 
these advantages. He joined himself to the 
following of what, in the old mythology of 
love, was prettily called noftckaloir ; and in 
an odd mixture of feelings, a fling of self- 
respect, a preference for selfish liberty, and 
a great dash of that fear with which honest 
people regard serious interests, kept himself 
back from the straightforward course of life 
among certain selected activities. And now, 
all of a sudden, he is unhorsed, like St. Paul, 
from his infidel affectation. His heart, which 
has been ticking accurate seconds for the 
last year, gives a bound and begins to beat 
high and irregularly in his breast. It seems 
as if he had never heard or felt or seen until 
that moment ; and by the report of his 
memory, he must have lived his past life 
between sleep and waking, or with the pre- 
occupied attention of a brown study. He is 
practically incommoded by the generosity of 
his feelings, smiles much when he is alone, 
and develops a habit of looking rather blankly 
upon the moon and stars. But it is not at 

52 " Virginibus Puerisque " 

all within the province of a prose essayist to 
give a picture of this hyperbolical frame of 
mind ; and the thing has been done already, 
and that to admiration. In Adelaide^ in 
Tennyson's Maud, and in some of Heine's 
songs, you get the absolute expression of 
this midsummer spirit. Romeo and Juliet 
were very much in love ; although they tell 
me some German critics are of a different 
opinion, probably the same who would have 
us think Mercutio a dull fellow. Poor 
Antony was in love, and no mistake. That 
lay figure Marius, in Les Miser ables, is also a 
genuine case in his own way, and worth 
observation. A good many of George Sand's 
people are thoroughly in love ; and so are a 
good many of George Meredith's. Altogether, 
there is plenty to read on the subject. If 
the root of the matter be in him, and if he 
has the requisite chords to set in vibration, 
a young man may occasionally enter, with 
the key of art, into that land of Beulah which 
is upon the borders of Heaven and within 
sight of the City of Love. There let him 

" Virginibus Puerisque " 53 

sit awhile to hatch delightful hopes and 
perilous illusions. 

One thing that accompanies the passion 
in its first blush is certainly difficult to ex- 
plain. It comes (I do not quite see how) 
that from having a very supreme sense of 
pleasure in all parts of life — in lying down 
to sleep, in waking, in motion, in breathing, 
in continuing to be — the lover begins to 
regard his happiness as beneficial for the 
rest of the world and highly meritorious in 
himself Our race has never been able con- 
tentedly to suppose that the noise of its wars, 
conducted by a few young gentlemen in a 
corner of an inconsiderable star, does not re- 
echo among the courts of Heaven with quite 
a formidable effect. In much the same taste, 
v/hen people find a great to-do in their own 
breasts, they imagine it must have some in- 
fluence in their neighbourhood. The presence 
of the two lovers is so enchanting to each 
other that it seems as if it must be the best 
thing possible for everybody else. They are 
half inclined to fancy it is because of them 

54 * ' Virginihts Puerisque 

and their love that the sky is blue and the 
sun shines. And certainly the weather is 
usually fine while people are courting. . . . 
In point of fact, although the happy man 
feels very kindly towards others of his own 
sex, there is apt to be something too much 
of the magnifico in his demeanour. If people 
grow presuming and self-important over such 
matters as a dukedom or the Holy See, they 
will scarcely support the dizziest elevation in 
life without some suspicion of a strut ; and 
the dizziest elevation is to love and be loved 
in return. Consequently, accepted lovers 
are a trifle condescending in their address to 
other men. An overweening sense of the 
passion and importance of life hardly con- 
duces to simplicity of manner. To women, 
they feel very nobly, very purely, and very 
generously, as if they were so many Joan-of- 
Arc's ; but this does not come out in their 
behaviour ; and they treat them to Grandi- 
sonian airs marked with a suspicion of fatuity. 
I am not quite certain that women do not 
like this sort of thing ; but really, after having 

<* Virginibus Puerisque " 5 5 

bemused myself over Daniel Deronda, I have 
given up trying to understand what they like. 
If it did nothing else, this sublime and 
ridiculous superstition, that the pleasure of 
the pair is somehow blessed to others, and 
everybody is made happier in their happiness, 
would serve at least to keep love generous 
and great-hearted. Nor is it quite a baseless 
superstition after all. Other lovers are 
hugely interested. They strike the nicest 
balance between pity and approval, when 
they see people aping the greatness of their 
own sentiments. It is an understood thing 
in the play, that while the young gentlefolk 
are courting on the terrace, a rough flirtation 
is being carried on, and a light, trivial sort 
of love is growing up, between the footman 
and the singing chambermaid. As people 
are generally cast for the leading parts in 
their own imaginations, the reader can apply 
the parallel to real life without much chance 
of going wrong. In short, they are quite 
sure this other love-affair is not so deep- 
seated as their own, but they like dearly to 

56 * * Virginibus Puerisque ' ' 

see it going forward. And love, considered 
as a spectacle, must have attractions for 
many who are not of the confraternity. The 
sentimental old maid is a commonplace of 
the novelists ; and he must be rather a poor 
sort of human being, to be sure, who can 
look on at this pretty madness without in- 
dulgence and sympathy. For nature com- 
mends itself to people with a most insinuating 
art; the busiest is now and again arrested 
by a great sunset ; and you may be as 
pacific or as cold-blooded as you will, but 
you cannot help some emotion when you 
read of well-disputed battles, or meet a pair 
of lovers in the lane. 

Certainly, whatever it may be with regard 
to the world at large, this idea of beneficent 
pleasure is true as between the sweethearts. 
To do good and communicate is the lover's 
grand intention. It is the happiness of the 
other that makes his own most intense 
gratification. It is not possible to disentangle 
the different emotions, the pride, humility, 
pity and passion, which are excited by a 

*< Virginihis Ptierisqtie " 57 

look of happy love or an unexpected caress. 
To make one's self beautiful, to dress the hair, 
to excel in talk, to do anything and all 
things that puff out the character and attri- 
butes and make them imposing in the eyes 
of others, is not only to magnify one's self, 
but to offer the most delicate homage at the 
same time. And it is in this latter intention 
that they are done by lovers ; for the essence 
of love is kindness ; and indeed it may be 
best defined as passionate kindness : kind- 
ness, so to speak, run mad and become 
importunate and violent. Vanity in a merely 
personal sense exists no longer. The lover 
takes a perilous pleasure in privately dis- 
playing his weak points and having them, 
one after another, accepted and condoned. 
He wishes to be assured that he is not loved 
for this or that good quality, but for himself, 
or something as like himself as he can 
contrive to set forward. For, although it 
may have been a very difficult thing to paint 
the marriage of Cana, or write the fourth act 
of Antony and Cleopatra, there is a more 

58 * ' Vtrginibus Puertsqzce ' 

difficult piece of art before every one in this 
world who cares to set about explaining his 
own character to others. Words and acts 
are easily wrenched from their true signifi- 
cance ; and they are all the language we 
have to come and go upon. A pitiful job we 
make of it, as a rule. For better or worse, 
people mistake our meaning and take our 
emotions at a wrong valuation. And gener- 
ally we rest pretty content with our failures ; 
we are content to be misapprehended by cack- 
ling flirts ; but when once a man is moonstruck 
with this affection of love, he makes it a 
point of honour to clear such dubieties away. 
He cannot have the Best of her Sex misled 
upon a point of this importance ; and his 
pride revolts at being loved in a mistake. 

He discovers a great reluctance to return 
on former periods of his life. To all that 
has not been shared with her, rights and 
duties, bygone fortunes and dispositions, he 
can look back only by a difficult and repug- 
nant effort of the will. That he should have 
wasted some years in ignorance of what 

*' Virgtmbus Puerisque " 59 

alone was really important, that he may 
have entertained the thought of other women 
with any show of complacency, is a burthen 
almost too heavy for his self-respect. But 
it is the thought of another past that rankles 
in his spirit like a poisoned wound. That 
he himself made a fashion of being alive in 
the bald, beggarly days before a certain 
meeting, is deplorable enough in all good 
conscience. But that She should have per- 
mitted herself the same liberty seems incon- 
sistent with a Divine providence. 

A great many people run down jealousy, 
on the score that it is an artificial feeling, as 
well as practically inconvenient. This is 
scarcely fair ; for the feeling on which it 
merely attends, like an ill-humoured courtier, 
is itself artificial in exactly the same sense 
and to the same degree. I suppose what is 
meant by that objection is that jealousy has 
not always been a character of man ; formed 
no part of that very modest kit of sentiments 
with which he is supposed to have begun the 
world ; but waited to make its appearance 

6o '* Virginibus Puerisque " 

in better days and among richer natures. 
And this is equally true of love, and friend- 
ship, and love of country, and delight in 
what they call the beauties of nature, and 
most other things worth having. Love, in 
particular, will not endure any historical 
scrutiny : to all who have fallen across it, it 
is one of the most incontestable facts in the 
world ; but if you begin to ask what it was 
in other periods and countries, in Greece for 
instance, the strangest doubts begin to spring 
up, and everything seems so vague and 
changing that a dream is logical in compari- 
son. Jealousy, at any rate, is one of the 
consequences of love ; you may like it or 
not, at pleasure ; but there it is. 

It is not exactly jealousy, however, that 
we feel when we reflect on the past of those 
we love. A bundle of letters found after 
years of happy union creates no sense of 
insecurity in the present ; and yet it will 
pain a man sharply. The two people enter- 
tain no Mulgar doubt of each other : but this 
pre-existence of both occurs to the mind as 

" Virginibus Puerisque " 6 1 

something indelicate. To be altogether right, 
they should have had twin birth together, at 
the same moment with the feeling that unites 
them. Then indeed it would be simple and 
perfect and without reserve or afterthought. 
Then they would understand each other with 
a fulness impossible otherwise. There would 
be no barrier between them of associations 
that cannot be imparted. They would be 
led into none of those comparisons that send 
the blood back to the heart. And they 
would know that there had been no time 
lost, and they had been together as much as 
was possible. For besides terror for the 
separation that must follow some time or 
other in the future, men feel anger, and 
something like remorse, when they think of 
that other separation which endured until 
they met. Some one has written that love 
makes people believe in immortality, because 
there seems not to be room enough in life 
for so great a tenderness, and it is inconceiv- 
able that the most masterful of our ^motions 
should have no more than the spare moments 

62 " Virginihis Puerisque 

of a few years. Indeed, it seems strange ; 
but if we call to mind analogies, we can 
hardly regard it as impossible. 
■\ " The blind bow-boy," who smiles upon us 
from the end of terraces in old Dutch gardens, 
laughingly hails his bird-bolts among a fleet- 
ing generation. But for as fast as ever he 
shoots, the game dissolves and disappears 
into eternity from under his falling arrows ; 
this one is gone ere he is struck ; the other 
has but time to make one gesture and give 
one passionate cry ; and they are all the 
things of a moment. When the generation 
is gone, when the play is over, when the 
thirty years' panorama has been withdrawn 
in tatters from the stage of the world, we 
may ask what has become of these great, 
weighty, and undying loves, and the sweet- 
hearts who despised mortal conditions in a 
fine credulity ; and they can only show us a 
few songs in a bygone taste, a few actions 
worth remembering, and a few children who 
have retained some happy stamp from the 
disposition of their parents. 

''Virginibus Ptterisqtie " 6i 


Among sayings that have a currency in spite 
of being wholly false upon the face of them 
for the sake of a half-truth upon another 
subject which is accidentally combined with 
the error, one of the grossest and broadest 
conveys the monstrous proposition that it is 
easy to tell the truth and hard to tell a lie. 
I wish heartily it were. But the truth is 
one ; it has first to be discovered, then justly 
and exactly uttered. Even with instruments 
specially contrived for such a purpose — with 
a foot rule, a level, or a theodolite — it is not 
easy to be exact ; it is easier, alas ! to be 
inexact. From those who mark the divi- 
sions on a scale to those who measure the 
boundaries of empires or the distance of the 
heavenly stars, it is by careful method and 

64 '' Virginibus Puerisque " 

minute, unwearying attention that men rise 
even to material exactness or to sure know- 
ledge even of external and constant things. 
But it is easier to draw the outline of a 
mountain than the changing appearance of a 
face ; and truth in human relations is of this 
more intangible and dubious order: hard to 
seize, harder to communicate. Veracity to 
facts in a loose, colloquial sense — not to say 
that I have been in Malabar when as a matter 
of fact I was never out of England, not to 
say that I have read Cervantes in the original 
when as a matter of fact I know not one 
syllable of Spanish — this, indeed, is easy and 
to the same degree unimportant in itself. 
Lies of this sort, according to circumstances, 
may or may not be important ; in a certain 
sense even they may or may not be false. 
The habitual liar may be a very honest 
fellow, and live truly with his wife and 
friends ; while another man who never told 
a formal falsehood in his life may yet be 
himself one lie — heart and face, from top to 
bottom. This is the kind of lie which 

' ' Virginibus Puerisque " 65 

poisons intimacy. And, vice versa, veracity 
to sentiment, truth in a relation, truth to 
your own heart and your friends, never to 
feign or falsify emotion — that is the truth 
which makes love possible and mankind 

L'art de bien dire is but a drawing-room 
accomplishment unless it be pressed into the 
service of the truth. The difficulty of litera- 
ture is not to write, but to write what you 
mean ; not to affect your reader, but to 
affect him precisely as you wish. This is 
commonly understood in the case of books 
or set orations ; even in making your will, or 
writing an explicit letter, some difficulty is 
admitted by the world. But one thing you 
can never make Philistine natures under- 
stand ; one thing, which yet lies on the 
surface, remains as unseizable to their wits 
as a high flight of metaphysics — namely, that 
the business of life is mainly carried on by 
means of this difficult art of literature, and 
according to a man's proficiency in that art 

shall be the freedom and the fulness of his 

66 ''Virginibus Puerisque'' 

intercourse with other men. Anybody, it is 
supposed, can say what he means ; and, in 
spite of their notorious experience to the 
contrary, people so continue to suppose. 
Now, I simply open the last book I have 
been reading — Mr. Leland's captivating Eng- 
lish Gipsies. " It is said," I find on p. 7, 
" that those who can converse with Irish 
peasants in their own native tongue form far 
higher opinions of their appreciation of the 
beautiful, and of t/ie elements of humour and 
pathos in their hearts, than do those who 
know their thoughts only through the 
medium of English. I know from my own 
observations that this is quite the case with 
the Indians of North America, and it is 
unquestionably so with the gipsy." In short, 
where a man has not a full possession of the 
language, the most important, because the 
most amiable, qualities of his nature have to 
lie buried and fallow ; for the pleasure of 
comradeship, and the intellectual part of love, 
rest upon these very " elements of humour 
and pathos." Here is a man opulent in 

' ' Virginibus Puerisque " 67 

both, and for lack of a medium he can put 
none of it out to interest in the market of 
affection ! But what is thus made plain to 
our apprehensions in the case of a foreign 
language is partially true even with the 
tongue we learned in childhood. Indeed, we 
all speak different dialects ; one shall be 
copious and exact, another loose and meagre ; 
but the speech of the ideal talker shall cor- 
respond and fit upon the truth of fact — not 
clumsily, obscuring lineaments, like a mantle, 
but cleanly adhering, like an athlete's skin. 
And what is the result ? That the one can 
open himself more clearly to his friends, and 
can enjoy more of what makes life truly 
valuable — intimacy with those he loves. An 
orator makes a false step ; he employs some 
trivial, some absurd, some vulgar phrase ; in 
the turn of a sentence he insults, by a side 
wind, those whom he is labouring to charm ; 
in speaking to one sentiment he unconsciously 
ruffles another in parenthesis ; and you are 
not surprised, for you know his task to be 
delicate and filled with perils. " O frivolous 

68 " Virginibus Puerisque ' ' 

mind of man, light ignorance !" As if your- 
self, when you seek to explain some mis- 
understanding or excuse some apparent fault, 
speaking swiftly and addressing a mind still 
recently incensed, were not harnessing for a 
more perilous adventure ; as if yourself 
required less tact and eloquence ; as if an 
angry friend or a suspicious lover were not 
more easy to offend than a meeting of 
indifferent politicians ! Nay, and the orator 
treads in a beaten round ; the matters he 
discusses have been discussed a thousand 
times before ; language is ready -shaped to 
his purpose ; he speaks out of a cut and dry 
vocabulary. But you — may it not be that 
your defence reposes on some subtlety of 
feeling, not so much as touched upon in 
Shakespeare, to express which, like a pioneer, 
you must venture forth into zones of thought 
still unsurveyed, and become yourself a 
literary innovator? For even in love there 
are unlovely humours ; ambiguous acts, un- 
pardonable words, may yet have sprung from 
a kind sentiment. If the injured one could 

' * Virginibus Puerisqite " 69 

read your heart, you may be sure that he 
would understand and pardon ; but, alas ! 
the heart cannot be shown — it has to be 
demonstrated in words. Do you think it is 
a hard thing to write poetry ? Why, that is 
to write poetry, and of a high, if not the 
highest, order. 

I should even more admire " the lifelong 
and heroic literary labours " of my fellow- 
men, patiently clearing up in words their 
loves and their contentions, and speaking 
their autobiography daily to their wives, were 
it not for a circumstance which lessens their 
difficulty and my admiration by equal parts. 
For life, though largely, is not entirely carried 
on by literature. We are subject to physical 
passions and contortions ; the voice breaks 
and changes, and speaks by unconscious and 
winning inflections ; we have legible coun- 
tenances, like an open book ; things that 
cannot be said look eloquently through the 
eyes ; and the soul, not locked into the body 
as a dungeon, dwells ever on the threshold 
with appealing signals. Groans and tears. 

70 ** Virginibus Puerisque " 

looks and gestures, a flush or a paleness, are 
often the most clear reporters of the heart, 
and speak more directly to the hearts of 
others. The message flies by these inter- 
preters in the least space of time, and the 
misunderstanding is averted in the moment 
of its birth. To explain in words takes time 
and a just and patient hearing ; and in the 
critical epochs of a close relation, patience 
and justice are not qualities on which we 
can rely. But the look or the gesture 
explains things in a breath ; they tell their 
message without ambiguity ; unlike speech, 
they cannot stumble, by the way, on a re- 
proach or an allusion that should steel your 
friend against the truth ; and then they have 
a higher authority, for they are the direct 
expression of the heart, not yet transmitted 
through the unfaithful and sophisticating 
brain. Not long ago I wrote a letter to a 
friend which came near involving us in 
quarrel ; but we met, and in personal talk I 
repeated the worst of what I had written, 
and added worse to that ; and with the com- 

' ' Virginibus Puerisque " 71 

mentary of the body it seemed not unfriendly 
either to hear or say. Indeed, letters are in 
vain for the purposes of intimacy ; an absence 
is a dead break in the relation ; yet two who 
know each other fully and are bent on per- 
petuity in love, may so preserve the attitude 
of their affections that they may meet on the 
same terms as they had parted. 

Pitiful is the case of the blind, who cannot 
read the face ; pitiful that of the deaf, who 
cannot follow the changes of the voice. And 
there are others also to be pitied ; for there 
are some of an inert, uneloquent nature, who 
have been denied all the symbols of com- 
munication, who have neither a lively play 
of facial expression, nor speaking gestures, 
nor a responsive voice, nor yet the gift of 
frank, explanatory speech : people truly 
made of clay, people tied for life into a bag 
which no one can undo. They are poorer 
than the gipsy, for their heart can speak no 
language under heaven. Such people we 
must learn slowly by the tenor of their acts, 
or through yea and nay communications ; or 

72 * * Virginibus Puerisque ' ' 

we take them on trust on the strength of a 
general air, and now and again, when we see 
the spirit breaking through in a flash, correct 
or change our estimate. But these will be 
uphill intimacies, without charm or freedom, 
to the end ; and freedom is the chief ingredi- 
ent in confidence. Some minds, romantically 
dull, despise physical endowments. That is 
a doctrine for a misanthrope ; to those who 
like their fellow-creatures it must always be 
meaningless ; and, for my part, I can see few 
things more desirable, after the possession of 
such radical qualities as honour and humour 
and pathos, than to have a lively and not a 
stolid countenance ; to have looks to corre- 
spond with every feeling ; to be elegant and 
delightful in person, so that we shall please 
even in the intervals of active pleasing, and 
may never discredit speech with uncouth 
manners or become unconsciously our own 
burlesques. But of all unfortunates there is 
one creature (for I will not call him man) 
conspicuous in misfortune. This is he who 
has forfeited his birthright of expression, who 

' ' Virginibus Puerisque " 73 

has cultivated artful intonations, who has 
taught his face tricks, like a pet monkey, and 
on every side perverted or cut off his means 
of communication with his fellow-men. The 
body is a house of many windows : there we 
all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the 
passers-by to come and love us. But this 
fellow has filled his windows with opaque 
glass, elegantly coloured. His house may be 
admired for its design, the crowd may pause 
before the stained windows, but meanwhile 
the poor proprietor must lie languishing 
within, uncomforted, unchangeably alone. 

Truth of intercourse is something more 
difficult than to refrain from open lies. It is 
possible to avoid falsehood and yet not tell 
the truth. It is not enough to answer formal 
questions. To reach the truth by yea and 
nay communications implies a questioner 
with a share of inspiration, such as is often 
found in mutual love. Yea and nay mean 
nothing ; the meaning must have been related 
in the question. Many words are often 
necessary to convey a very simple statement ; 

74 ''Virginibus Puerisque'' 

for in this sort of exercise we never hit the 
gold ; the most that we can hope is by many- 
arrows, more or less far off on different sides, 
to indicate, in the course of time, for what 
target we are aiming, and after an hour's 
talk, back and forward, to convey the purport 
of a single principle or a single thought. 
And yet while the curt, pithy speaker misses 
the point entirely, a wordy, prolegomenous 
babbler will often add three new offences in 
the process of excusing one. It is really a 
most delicate affair. The world was made 
before the English language, and seemingly 
upon a different design. Suppose we held 
our converse not in words, but in music ; 
those who have a bad ear would find them- 
selves cut off from all near commerce, and 
no better than foreigners in this big world. 
But we do not consider how many have " a 
bad ear " for words, nor how often the most 
eloquent find nothing to reply. I hate ques- 
tioners and questions ; there are so few that 
can be spoken to without a lie. ^^ Do you 
forgive me?'' Madam and sweetheart, so far 

* * Virginibus Puerisque " 75 

as I have gone in life I have never yet been 
able to discover what forgiveness means. 
"/j it still the same betweefi us?^^ Why, 
how can it be ? It is eternally different ; 
and yet you are still the friend of my heart. 
^^ Do you understand me?'' God knows ; I 
should think it highly improbable. 

The cruellest lies are often told in silence. 
A man may have sat in a room for hours 
and not opened his teeth, and yet come out 
of that room a disloyal friend or a vile 
calumniator. And how many loves have 
perished because, from pride, or spite, or 
diffidence, or that unmanly shame which 
withholds a man from daring to betray 
emotion, a lover, at the critical point of the 
relation, has but hung his head and held his 
tongue ? And, again, a lie may be told by 
a truth, or a truth conveyed through a lie. 
Truth to facts is not always truth to senti- 
ment ; and part of the truth, as often happens 
in answer to a question, may be the foulest 
calumny. A fact may be an exception ; 
but the feeling is the law, and it is that 

76 * * Virginibus Puerisque 

which you must neither garble nor belie. 
The whole tenor of a conversation is a part 
of the meaning of each separate statement ; 
the beginning and the end define and travesty 
the intermediate conversation. You never 
speak to God ; you address a . fellow-man, 
full of his own tempers ; and to tell truth, 
rightly understood, is not to state the true 
facts, but to convey a true impression ; truth 
in spirit, not truth to letter, is the true 
veracity. To reconcile averted friends a 
Jesuitical discretion is often needful, not so 
much to gain a kind hearing as to communi- 
cate sober truth. Women have an ill name 
in this connection ; yet they live in as true 
relations ; the lie of a good woman is the 
true index of her heart. 

" It takes," says Thoreau, in the noblest 
and most useful passage I remember to have 
read in any modern author,^ "two to speak 
truth — one to speak and another to hear." 
He must be very little experienced, or have 

1 A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers^ Wednes- 
day, p. 283. 

' ' Virginibus Puerisque " 77 

no great zeal for truth, who does not re- 
cognise the fact. A grain of anger or a 
grain of suspicion produces strange acoustical 
effects, and makes the ear greedy to remark 
offence. Hence we find those who have 
once quarrelled carry themselves distantly, 
and are ever ready to break the truce. To 
speak truth there must be moral equality or 
else no respect ; and hence between parent 
and child intercourse is apt to degenerate 
into a verbal fencing bout, and misappre- 
hensions to become ingrained. And there 
is another side to this, for the parent begins 
with an imperfect notion of the child's 
character, formed in early years or during 
the equinoctial gales of youth ; to this he 
adheres, noting only the facts which suit 
with his preconception ; and wherever a 
person fancies himself unjustly judged, he 
at once and finally gives up the effort to 
speak truth. With our chosen friends, on 
the other hand, and still more between 
lovers (for mutual understanding is love's 
essence), the truth is easily indicated by the 

yS " Virginibus Puerisque " 

one and aptly comprehended by the other. 
A hint taken, a look understood, conveys 
the gist of long and delicate explanations ; 
and where the life is known even yea and 
nay become luminous. In the closest of all 
relations — that of a love well founded and 
equally shared — speech is half discarded, 
like a roundabout, infantile process or a 
ceremony of formal etiquette ; and the two 
communicate directly by their presences, 
and with few looks and fewer words contrive 
to share their good and evil and uphold each 
other's hearts in joy. For love rests upon 
a physical basis ; it is a familiarity of nature's 
making and apart from voluntary choice. 
Understanding has in some sort outrun 
knowledge, for the affection perhaps began 
with the acquaintance ; and as it was not 
made like other relations, so it is not, like 
them, to be perturbed or clouded. Each 
knows more than can be uttered ; each lives 
by faith, and believes by a natural compul- 
sion ; and between man ^nd wife the 
language of the body is largely developed 

" Virginibus Puerisque " 79 

and grown strangely eloquent. The thought 
that prompted and was conveyed in a caress 
would only lose to be set down in words — 
ay, although Shakespeare himself should be 
the scribe. 

Yet it is in these dear intimacies, beyond 
all others, that we must strive and do battle 
for the truth. Let but a doubt arise, and 
alas ! all the previous intimacy and confid- 
ence is but another charge against the person 
doubted. " What a monstrous dishonesty is 
this if I have been deceived so long and so 
completely !" Let but that thought gain 
entrance, and you plead before a deaf tri- 
bunal. Appeal to the past ; why, that is 
your crime ! Make all clear, convince the 
reason ; alas ! speciousness is but a proof 
against you. ^^ If you can abuse m,e now^ the 
more likely that you have abused m.e from 
the firsts 

For a strong affection such moments are 
worth supporting, and they will end well ; 
for your advocate is in your lover's heart 
and speaks her own language ; it is not you 

8o '' Virginibus Puerisque " 

but she herself who can defend and clear 
you of the charge. But in slighter intimacies, 
and for a less stringent union ? Indeed, is 
it worth while ? We are all incompris^ only- 
more or less concerned for the mischance ; 
all trying wrongly to do right ; all fawning 
at each other's feet like dumb, neglected 
lap-dogs. Sometimes we catch an eye — 
this is our opportunity in the ages — and we 
wag our tail with a poor smile. "Zy that 
all?" AW? If you only knew! But how 
can they know ? They do not love us ; the 
more fools we to squander life on the in- 

But the morality of the thing, you will 
be glad to hear, is excellent ; for it is only 
by trying to understand others that we can 
get our own hearts understood ; and in 
matters of human feeling the clement judge 
is the most successful pleader. 


"You know my mother now and then argues very 
notably ; always very warmly at least. I happen often to 
differ from her; and we both think so well of our own 
arguments, that we very seldom are so happy as to convince 
one another. A pretty common case, I believe, in all 
vehement debatings. She says, I am too witty ; Anglice, 
too pert ; I, that she is too wise ; that is to say, being like- 
wise put into English, not so young as she has been.'' — Miss 
Howe to Miss Harlowe, Clarissa, vol. ii. Letter xiii. 

nPHERE is a strong feeling in favour of 
cowardly and prudential proverbs. The 
sentiments of a man while he is full of ardour 
and hope are to be received, it is supposed, 
with some qualification. But when the same 
person has ignominiously failed and begins 
to eat up his words, he should be listened to 
like an oracle. Most of our pocket wisdom 
is conceived for the use of mediocre people, 
to discourage them from ambitious attempts, 

82 Crabbed Age and Youth 

and generally console them in their medio- 
crity. And since mediocre people constitute 
the bulk of humanity, this is no doubt very 
properly so. But it does not follow that the 
one sort of proposition is any less true than 
the other, or that Icarus is not to be more 
praised, and perhaps more envied, than Mr. 
Samuel Budgett the Successful Merchant. 
The one is dead, to be sure, while the other 
is still in his counting-house counting out 
his money ; and doubtless this is a considera- 
tion. But we have, on the other hand, some 
bold and magnanimous sayings common to 
high races and natures, which set forth the 
advantage of the losing side, and proclaim it 
better to be a dead lion than a living dog. 
It is difficult to fancy how the mediocrities 
reconcile such sayings with their proverbs. 
According to the latter, every lad who goes 
to sea is an egregious ass ; never to forget 
your umbrella through a long life would seem 
a higher and wiser flight of achievement than 
to go smiling to the stake ; and so long as 
you are a bit of a coward and inflexible in 

Crabbed Age and YoiUh 8 3 

money matters, you fulfil the whole duty of 

It is a still more difficult consideration for 
our average men, that while all their teachers, 
from Solomon down to Benjamin Franklin 
and the ungodly Binney, have inculcated the 
same ideal of manners, caution, and respect- 
ability, those characters in history who have 
most notoriously flown in the face of such 
precepts are spoken of in hyperbolical terms 
of praise, and honoured with public monu- 
ments in the streets of our commercial 
centres. This is very bewildering to the 
moral sense. You have Joan of Arc, who 
left a humble but honest and reputable liveli- 
hood under the eyes of her parents, to go 
a-colonelling, in the company of rowdy 
soldiers, against the enemies of France ; 
surely a melancholy example for one's 
daughters ! And then you have Columbus, 
who may have pioneered America, but, when 
all is said, was a most imprudent navigator. 
His life is not the kind of thing one would 
like to put into the hands of young people ; 

84 Crabbed Age and Youth 

rather, one would do one's utmost to keep it 
from their knowledge, as a red flag of adven- 
ture and disintegrating influence in life. The 
time would fail me if I were to recite all the 
big names in history whose exploits are 
perfectly irrational and even shocking to the 
business mind. The incongruity is speaking ; 
and I imagine it must engender among the 
mediocrities a very peculiar attitude towards 
the nobler and showier sides of national life. 
They will read of the Charge of Balaclava in 
much the same spirit as they assist at a per- 
formance of the Lyons Mail. Persons of 
substance take in the Times and sit com- 
posedly in pit or boxes according to the 
degree of their prosperity in business. As 
for the generals who go galloping up 
and down among bomb-shells in absurd 
cocked hats — as for the actors who raddle 
their faces and demean themselves for hire 
upon the stage — they must belong, thank 
God ! to a different order of beings, whom 
we watch as we watch the clouds careering 
in the windy, bottomless inane, or read about 

Crabbed Ap;e and YotUh 8 5 


like characters in ancient and rather fabulous 
annals. Our offspring would no more think 
of copying their behaviour, let us hope, than 
of doffing their clothes and painting them- 
selves blue in consequence of certain admis- 
sions in the first chapter of their school history 
of England. 

Discredited as they are in practice, the 
cowardly proverbs hold their own in theory ; 
and it is another instance of the same spirit, 
that the opinions of old men about life have 
been accepted as final. All sorts of allow- 
ances are made for the illusions of youth ; 
and none, or almost none, for the disenchant- 
ments of age. It is held to be a good taunt, 
and somehow or other to clinch the question 
logically, when an old gentleman waggles 
his head and says : " Ah, so I thought when 
I was your age." It is not thought an 
answer at all, if the young man retorts : 
" My venerable sir, so I shall most probably 
think when I am yours." And yet the one 
is as good as the other : pass for pass, tit 
for tat, a Roland for an Oliver. 

86 Crabbed Age and Yottth 

" Opinion in good men," says Milton, " is 
but knowledge in the making." All opinions, 
properly so called, are stages on the road to 
truth. It does not follow that a man will 
travel any further ; but if he has really con- 
sidered the world and drawn a conclusion, 
he has travelled as far. This does not apply 
to formulae got by rote, which are stages on 
the road to nowhere but second childhood 
and the grave. To have a catchword in 
your mouth is not the same thing as to hold 
an opinion ; still less is it the same thing as 
to have made one for yourself. There are 
too many of these catchwords in the world 
for people to rap out upon you like an oath 
and by way of an argument. They have a 
currency as intellectual counters ; and many 
respectable persons pay their way with 
nothing else. They seem to stand for vague 
bodies of theory in the background. The 
imputed virtue of folios full of knockdown 
arguments is supposed to reside in them, 
just as some of the majesty of the British 
Empire dwells in the constable's truncheon. 

Crabbed Age and Youth ^7 

They are used in pure superstition, as old 
clodhoppers spoil Latin by way of an 
exorcism. And yet they are vastly service- 
able for checking unprofitable discussion and 
stopping the mouths of babes and sucklings. 
And when a young man comes to a certain 
stage of intellectual growth, the examination 
of these counters forms a gymnastic at once 
amusing and fortifying to the mind. 

Because I have reached Paris, I am not 
ashamed of having passed through Newhaven 
and Dieppe. They were very good places 
to pass through, and I am none the less at 
my destination. All my old opinions were 
only stages on the way to the one I now 
hold, as itself is only a stage on the way to 
something else. I am no more abashed 
at having been a red-hot Socialist with a 
panacea of my own than at having been a 
sucking infant. Doubtless the world is quite 
right in a million ways ; but you have to be 
kicked about a little to convince you of the 
fact. And in the meanwhile you must do 
something, be something, believe something. 

88 Crabbed Age and Youth 

It is not possible to keep the mind in a state 
of accurate balance and blank ; and even if 
you could do so, instead of coming ultimately 
to the right conclusion, you would be very 
apt to remain in a state of balance and blank 
to perpetuity. Even in quite intermediate 
stages, a dash of enthusiasm is not a thing 
to be ashamed of in the retrospect : if St. 
Paul had not been a very zealous Pharisee, 
he would have been a colder Christian. For 
my part, I look back to the time when I was 
a Socialist with something like regret. I have 
convinced myself (for the moment) that we 
had better leave these great changes to what 
we call great blind forces : their blindness 
being so much more perspicacious than the 
little, peering, partial eyesight of men. I 
seem to see that my own scheme would not 
answer ; and all the other schemes I ever 
heard propounded would depress some ele- 
ments of goodness just as much as they 
encouraged others. Now I know that in 
thus turning Conservative with years, I am 
going through the normal cycle of change 

Crabbed Age and Youth 89 

and travelling in the common orbit of men's 
opinions. I submit to this, as I would 
submit to gout or gray hair, as a concomi- 
tant of growing age or else of failing animal 
heat ; but I do not acknowledge that it 
is necessarily a change for the better — I 
daresay it is deplorably for the worse. I 
have no choice in the business, and can no 
more resist this tendency of my mind than 
I could prevent my body from beginning to 
totter and decay. If I am spared (as the 
phrase runs) I shall doubtless outlive some 
troublesome desires ; but I am in no hurry 
about that ; nor, when the time comes, shall 
I plume myself on the immunity. Just in 
the same way, I do not greatly pride myself 
on having outlived my belief in the fairy tales 
of Socialism. Old people have faults of their 
own ; they tend to become cowardly, niggardly, 
and suspicious. Whether from the growth 
of experience or the decline of animal heat, 
I see that age leads to these and certain other 
faults ; and it follows, of course, that while in 
one sense I hope I am journeying towards the 

90 Crabbed Age and Youth 

truth, in another I am indubitably posting 
towards these forms and sources of error. 

As we go catching and catching at this or 
that corner of knowledge, now getting a fore- 
sight of generous possibilities, now chilled 
with a glimpse of prudence, we may compare 
the headlong course of our years to a swift 
torrent in which a man is carried away ; now 
he is dashed against a boulder, now he 
grapples for a moment to a trailing spray ; 
at the end, he is hurled out and overwhelmed 
in a dark and bottomless ocean. We have 
no more than glimpses and touches ; we are 
torn away from our theories ; we are spun 
round and round and shown this or the other 
view of life, until only fools or knaves can 
hold to their opinions. We take a sight at 
a condition in life, and say we have studied 
it ; our most elaborate view is no more than 
an impression. If we had breathing space, 
we should take the occasion to modify and 
adjust ; but at this breakneck hurry, we are 
no sooner boys than we are adult, no sooner 
in love than married or jilted, no sooner one 

Crabbed Age and Youth 9 1 

age than we begin to be another, and no 
sooner in the fulness of our manhood than 
we begin to decline towards the grave. It 
is in vain to seek for consistency or expect 
clear and stable views in a medium so per- 
turbed and fleeting. This is no cabinet 
science, in which things are tested to a 
scruple ; we theorise with a pistol to our 
head ; we are confronted with a new set of 
conditions on which we have not only to 
pass a judgment, but to take action, before 
the hour is at an end. And we cannot even 
regard ourselves as a constant ; in this flux 
of things, our identity itself seems in a per- 
petual variation ; and not infrequently we 
find our own disguise the strangest in the 
masquerade. In the course of time, we 
grow to love things we hated and hate things 
we loved. Milton is not so dull as he once 
was, nor perhaps Ainsworth so amusing. It 
is decidedly harder to climb trees, and not 
nearly so hard to sit still. There is no use 
pretending ; even the thrice royal game of 
hide and seek has somehow lost in zest. 

92 Crabbed Age and Youth 

All our attributes are modified or changed ; 
and it will be a poor account of us if our 
views do not modify and change in a propor- 
tion. To hold the same views at forty as 
we held at twenty is to have been stupefied 
for a score of years, and take rank, not as a 
prophet, but as an unteachable brat, well 
birched and none the wiser. It is as if a 
ship captain should sail to India from the 
Port of London ; and having brought a chart 
of the Thames on deck at his first setting 
out, should obstinately use no other for the 
whole voyage. 

And mark you, it would be no less foolish 
to begin at Gravesend with a chart of the 
Red Sea. Si Jeunesse savait, si Vieillesse 
pouvait, is a very pretty sentiment, but not 
necessarily right. In five cases out of ten, 
it is not so much that the young people do 
not know, as that they do not choose. There 
is something irreverent in the speculation, 
but perhaps the want of power has more to 
do with the wise resolutions of age than we 
are always willing to admit. It would be 

Crabbed Age and Youth 93 

an instructive experiment to make an old 
man young again and leave him all his 
savoir. I scarcely think he would put his 
money in the Savings Bank after all ; I 
doubt if he would be such an admirable son 
as we are led to expect ; and as for his con- 
duct in love, I believe firmly he would out- 
Herod Herod, and put the whole of his new 
compeers to the blush. Prudence is a wooden 
Juggernaut, before whom Benjamin Franklin 
walks with the portly air of a high priest, 
and after whom dances many a successful 
merchant in the character of Atys. But it 
is not a deity to cultivate in youth. If a 
man lives to any considerable age, it cannot 
be denied that he laments his imprudences, 
but I notice he often laments his youth a 
deal more bitterly and with a more genuine 

It is customary to say that age should be 
considered, because it comes last. It seems 
just as much to the point, that youth comes 
first. And the scale fairly kicks the beam, 
if you go on to add that age, in a majority 

94 Crabbed Age and Youth 

of cases, never comes at all. Disease and 
accident make short work of even the most 
prosperous persons ; death costs nothing, 
and the expense of a headstone is an incon- 
siderable trifle to the happy heir. To be 
suddenly snuffed out in the middle of ambi- 
tious schemes, is tragical enough at best ; 
but when a man has been grudging himself 
his own life in the meanwhile, and saving up 
everything for the festival that was never to 
be, it becomes that hysterically moving sort 
of tragedy which lies on the confines of farce. 
The victim is dead — and he has cunningly 
overreached himself: a combination of ca- 
lamities none the less absurd for being grim. 
To husband a favourite claret until the batch 
turns sour, is not at all an artful stroke of 
policy ; and how much more with a whole 
cellar — a whole bodily existence! People 
may lay down their lives with cheerfulness 
in the sure expectation of a blessed immor- 
tality ; but that is a different affair from 
giving up youth with all its admirable 
pleasures, in the hope of a better quality of 

Crabbed Age and Youth 95 

gruel in a more than problematical, nay, 
more than improbable, old age. We should 
not compliment a hungry man, who should 
refuse a whole dinner and reserve all his 
appetite for the dessert, before he knew 
whether there was to be any dessert or not. 
If there be such a thing as imprudence in 
the world, we surely have it here. We sail 
in leaky bottoms and on great and perilous 
waters ; and to take a cue from the dolorous 
old naval ballad, we have heard the mer- 
maidens singing, and know that we shall 
never see dry land any more. Old and 
young, we are all on our last cruise. If 
there is a fill of tobacco among the crew, for 
God's sake pass it round, and let us have a 
pipe before we go ! 

Indeed, by the report of our elders, this 
nervous preparation for old age is only 
trouble thrown away. We fall on guard, 
and after all it is a friend who comes to 
meet us. After the sun is down and the 
west faded, the heavens begin to fill with 
shining stars. So, as we grow old, a sort of 

g6 Crabbed Age and Youth 

equable jog-trot of feeling is substituted for 
the violent ups and downs of passion and 
disgust ; the same influence that restrains 
our hopes, quiets our apprehensions ; if the 
pleasures are less intense, the troubles are 
milder and more tolerable ; and in a word, 
this period for which we are asked to hoard 
up everything as for a time of famine, is, in 
its own right, the richest, easiest, and happiest 
of life. Nay, by managing its own work and 
following its own happy inspiration, youth is 
doing the best it can to endow the leisure of 
age.,/ A full, busy youth is your only prelude 
to a self-contained and independent age ; 
and the muff inevitably develops into the bore. 
There are not many Doctor Johnsons, to 
set forth upon their first romantic voyage at 
sixty-four. If we wish to scale Mont Blanc 
or visit a thieves' kitchen in the East End, 
to go down in a diving dress or up in a 
balloon, we must be about it while we are 
still young. It will not do to delay until we 
are clogged with prudence and limping with 
rheumatism, and people begin to ask us : 

Crabbed Ap;e and Youth 97 


"What does Gravity out of bed?" Youth 
is the time to go flashing from one end of 
the world to the other both in mind and 
body ; to try the manners of different 
nations ; to hear the chimes at midnight ; 
to see sunrise in town and country ; to be 
converted at a revival ; to circumnavigate 
the metaphysics, write halting verses, run a 
mile to see a fire, and wait all day long in 
the theatre to applaud Hernani. There is 
some meaning in the old theory about wild 
oats ; and a man who has not had his green- 
sickness and got done with it for good, is as 
little to be depended on as an unvaccinated 
infant. " It is extraordinary," says Lord 
Beaconsfield, one of the brightest and best 
preserved of youths up to the date of his last 
novel,-^ " it is extraordinary how hourly and 
how violently change the feelings of an in- 
experienced young man." And this mobility 
is a special talent entrusted to his care ; a 
sort of indestructible virginity ; a magic 
armour, with which he can pass unhurt 

1 Lothair. 

98 Crabbed Age and Youth 

through great dangers and come unbedaubed 
out of the miriest passages. Let him voyage, 
speculate, see all that he can, do all that he 
may ; his soul has as many lives as a cat ; 
he will live in all weathers, and never be a 
halfpenny the worse. Those who go to the 
devil in youth, with anything like a fair 
chance, were probably little worth saving 
from the first ; they must have been feeble 
fellows — creatures made of putty and pack- 
thread, without steel or fire, anger or true 
joyfulness, in their composition ; we may 
sympathise with their parents, but there is 
not much cause to go into mourning for 
themselves ; for to be quite honest, the weak 
brother is the worst of mankind. 

When the old man waggles his head and 
says, " Ah, so I thought when I was your 
age," he has proved the youth's case. Doubt- 
less, whether from growth of experience or 
decline of animal heat, he thinks so no longer; 
but he thought so while he was young ; and 
all men have thought so while they were 
young, since there was dew in the morning 

Crabbed Age and Youth 99 

or hawthorn in May ; and here is another 
young man adding his vote to those of pre- 
vious generations and rivetting another link 
to the chain of testimony. It is as natural 
and as right for a young man to be imprudent 
and exaggerated, to live in swoops and circles, 
and beat about his cage like any other wild 
thing newly captured, as it is for old men to 
turn gray, or mothers to love their offspring, 
or heroes to die for something worthier than 
their lives. 

By way of an apologue for the aged, when 
they feel more than usually tempted to offer 
their advice, let me recommend the following 
little tale. A child who had been remark- 
ably fond of toys (and in particular of lead 
soldiers) found himself growing to the level 
of acknowledged boyhood without any abate- 
ment of this childish taste. He was thirteen ; 
already he had been taunted for dallying 
overlong about the playbox ; he had to blush 
if he was found among his lead soldiers ; the 
shades of the prison-house were closing about 
him with a vengeance. There is nothing 

100 Crabbed Age and Youth 

more difficult than to put the thoughts of 
children into the language of their elders ; 
but this is the effect of his meditations at 
this juncture : " Plainly," he said, " I must 
give up my playthings, in the meanwhile, 
since I am not in a position to secure myself 
against idle jeers. At the same time, I am 
sure that playthings are the very pick of life ; 
all people give them up out of the same 
pusillanimous respect for those who are a 
little older ; and if they do not return to 
them as soon as they can, it is only because 
they grow stupid and forget. I shall be 
wiser ; I shall conform for a little to the 
ways of their foolish world ; but so soon as 
I have made enough money, I shall retire 
and shut myself up among my playthings 
until the day I die." Nay, as he was passing 
in the train along the Esterel mountains 
between Cannes and Frejus, he remarked a 
pretty house in an orange garden at the 
angle of a bay, and decided that this should 
be his Happy Valley. Astrea Redux ; 
childhood was to come again ! The idea 

Crabbed Age and Youth i o i 

has an air of simple nobility to me, not 
unworthy of Cincinnatus. And yet, as the 
reader has probably anticipated, it is never 
likely to be carried into effect. There was a 
worm i' the bud, a fatal error in the premises. 
Childhood must pass away, and then youth, as 
surely as age approaches. The true wisdom 
is to be always seasonable, and to change 
with a good grace in changing circumstances. 
To love playthings well as a child, to lead an 
adventurous and honourable youth, and to 
settle when the time arrives, into a green and 
smiling age, is to be a good artist in life and 
deserve well of yourself and your neighbour. 
You need repent none of your youthful 
vagaries. They may have been over the 
score on one side, just as those of age are 
probably over the score on the other. But 
they had a point ; they not only befitted 
your age and expressed its attitude and 
passions, but they had a relation to what 
was outside of you, and implied criticisms on 
the existing state of things, which you need 
not allow to have been undeserved, because 

102 Crabbed Age and Youth 

you now see that they were partial. All 
error, not merely verbal, is a strong way of 
stating that the current truth is incomplete. 
The follies of youth have a basis in sound 
reason, just as much as the embarrassing 
questions put by babes and sucklings. Their 
most antisocial acts indicate the defects of 
our society. When the torrent sweeps the 
man against a boulder, you must expect him 
to scream, and you need not be surprised if 
the scream is sometimes a theory. Shelley, 
chafing at the Church of England, discovered 
the cure of all evils in universal atheism. 
Generous lads irritated at the injustices of 
society, see nothing for it but the abolish- 
ment of everything and Kingdom Come of 
anarchy. Shelley was a young fool ; so are 
these cocksparrow revolutionaries. But it is 
better to be a fool than to be dead. It is 
better to emit a scream in the shape of a 
theory than to be entirely insensible to the 
jars and incongruities of life and take every- 
thing as it comes in a forlorn stupidity. 
Some people swallow the universe like a pill ; 

Crabbed Age and Youth 103 

they travel on through the world, like smiling 
images pushed from behind. For God's sake 
give me the young man who has brains enough 
to make a fool of himself ! As for the others, 
the irony of facts shall take it out of their 
hands, and make fools of them in downright 
earnest, ere the farce be over. There shall 
be such a mopping and a mowing at the last 
day, and such blushing and confusion of 
countenance for all those who have been 
wise in their own esteem, and have not learnt 
the rough lessons that youth hands on to 
age. If we are indeed here to perfect and 
complete our own natures, and grow larger, 
stronger, and more sympathetic against some 
nobler career in the future, we had all best 
bestir ourselves to the utmost while we have 
the time. To equip a dull, respectable person 
with wings would be but to make a parody 
of an angel. 

In short, if youth is not quite right in its 
opinions, there is a strong probability that 
age is not much more so. Undying hope is 
co-ruler of the human bosom with infallible 

1 04 Crabbed Age and Youth 

credulity. A man finds he has been wrong 
at every preceding stage of his career, only 
to deduce the astonishing conclusion that he 
is at last entirely right. Mankind, after 
centuries of failure, are still upon the eve 
of a thoroughly constitutional millennium. 
Since we have explored the maze so long 
without result, it follows, for poor human 
reason, that we cannot have to explore much 
longer ; close by must be the centre, with a 
champagne luncheon and a piece of orna- 
mental water. How if there were no centre 
at all, but just one alley after another, and 
the whole world a labyrinth without end or 
issue ? 

I overheard the other day a scrap of con- 
versation, which I take the liberty to repro- 
duce. "What I advance is true," said one. 
" But not the whole truth," answered the 
other. "Sir," returned the first (and it 
seemed to me there was a smack of Dr. 
Johnson in the speech), " Sir, there is no 
such thing as the whole truth!" Indeed, 
there is nothing so evident in life as that 

Crabbed Age and Youth 105 

there are two sides to a question. History 
is one long illustration. The forces of nature 
are engaged, day by day, in cudgelling it 
into our backward intelligences. We never 
pause for a moment's consideration, but we 
admit it as an axiom. An enthusiast sways 
humanity exactly by disregarding this great 
truth, and dinning it into our ears that this 
or that question has only one possible solu- 
tion ; and your enthusiast is a fine florid 
fellow, dominates things for a while and 
shakes the world out of a doze ; but when 
once he is gone, an army of quiet and unin- 
fluential people set to work to remind us of 
the other side and demolish the generous 
imposture. While Calvin is putting every- 
body exactly right in his Institutes^ and hot- 
headed Knox is thundering in the pulpit, 
Montaigne is already looking at the other 
side in his library in Perigord, and predicting 
that they will find as much to quarrel about 
in the Bible as they had found already in 
the Church. Age may have one side, but 
assuredly Youth has the other. There is 

io6 Crabbed Age and Youth 

nothing more certain than that both are right, 
except perhaps that both are wrong. Let 
them agree to differ ; for who knows but 
what agreeing to differ may not be a form 
of agreement rather than a form of differ- 

I suppose it is written that any one who 
sets up for a bit of a philosopher, must con- 
tradict himself to his very face. For here 
have I fairly talked myself into thinking that 
we have the whole thing before us at last ; 
that there is no answer to the mystery, 
except that there are as many as you please ; 
that there is no centre to the maze because, 
like the famous sphere, its centre is every- 
where ; and that agreeing to differ with 
every ceremony of politeness, is the only 
" one undisturbed song of pure concent " to 
which we are ever likely to lend our musical 


" BoswELL : We grow weary when idle. 

"Johnson : That is, sir, because others being busy, we 
want company ; but if we were idle, there would be no 
growing weary ; we should all entertain one another." 

T UST now, when every one is bound, under 
pain of a decree in absence convicting 
them of /(^i-^-respectability, to enter on some 
lucrative profession, and labour therein with 
something not far short of enthusiasm, a cry 
from the opposite party who are content 
when they have enough, and like to look on 
and enjoy in the meanwhile, savours a little 
of bravado and gasconade. And yet this 
should not be. Idleness so called, which 
does not consist in doing nothing, but in 
doing a great deal not recognised in the 
dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, has 

I o 8 An Apology for Idlers 

as good a right to state its position as 
industry itself. It is admitted that the 
presence of people who refuse to enter in the 
great handicap race for sixpenny pieces, is 
at once an insult and a disenchantment for 
those who do. A fine fellow (as we see so 
many) takes his determination, votes for the 
sixpences, and in the emphatic Americanism, 
" goes for " them. And while such an one 
is ploughing distressfully up the road, it is 
not hard to understand his resentment, when 
he perceives cool persons in the meadows by 
the wayside, lying with a handkerchief over 
their ears and a glass at their elbow. Alex- 
ander is touched in a very delicate place by 
the disregard of Diogenes. Where was the 
glory of having taken Rome for these tumult- 
uous barbarians, who poured into the Senate 
house, and found the Fathers sitting silent 
and unmoved by their success ? It is a sore 
thing to have laboured along and scaled the 
arduous hilltops, and when all is done, find 
humanity indifferent to your achievement. 
Hence physicists condemn the unphysical ; 

A n Apology for Idlers 109 

financiers have only a superficial toleration 
for those who know little of stocks ; literary 
persons despise the unlettered ; and people 
of all pursuits combine to disparage those 
who have none. 

But though this is one difficulty of the 
subject, it is not the greatest. You could 
not be put in prison for speaking against 
industry, but you can be sent to Coventry 
for speaking like a fool. The greatest 
difficulty with most subjects is to do them 
well ; therefore, please to remember this is 
an apology. It is certain that much may 
be judiciously argued in favour of diligence ; 
only there is something to be said against it, 
and that is what, on the present occasion, I 
have to say. To state one argument is not 
necessarily to be deaf to all others, and that 
a man has written a book of travels in 
Montenegro, is no reason why he should 
never have been to Richmond. 

It is surely beyond a doubt that people 
should be a good deal idle in youth. For 
though here and there a Lord Macaulay may 

1 10 An Apology for Idlers 

escape from school honours with all his wits 
about him, most boys pay so dear for their 
medals that they never afterwards have a 
shot in their locker, and begin the world 
bankrupt. And the same holds true during 
all the time a lad is educating himself, or 
suffering others to educate him. It must 
have been a very foolish old gentleman who 
addressed Johnson at Oxford in these words : 
" Young man, ply your book diligently now, 
and acquire a stock of knowledge ; for when 
years come upon you, you will find that 
poring upon books will be but an irksome 
task." The old gentleman seems to have 
been unaware that many other things besides 
reading grow irksome, and not a few become 
impossible, by the time a man has to use 
spectacles and cannot walk without a stick. 
Books are good enough in their own way, 
but they are a mighty bloodless substitute 
for life. It seems a pity to sit, like the Lady 
of Shalott, peering into a mirror, with your 
back turned on all the bustle and glamour of 
reality. And if a man reads very hard, as 

An Apology for Idlers 1 1 1 

the old anecdote reminds us, he will have 
little time for thought. 

If you look back on your own education, 
I am sure it will not be the full, vivid, in- 
structive hours of truantry that you regret ; 
you would rather cancel some lack-lustre 
periods between sleep and waking in the 
class. For my own part, I have attended a 
good many lectures in my time. I still 
remember that the spinning of a top is a 
case of Kinetic Stability. I still remember 
that Emphyteusis is not a disease, nor Stilli- 
cide a crime. But though I would not 
willingly part with such scraps of science, I 
do not set the same store by them as by 
certain other odds and ends that I came by 
in the open street while I was playing truant. 
This is not the moment to dilate on that 
mighty place of education, which was the 
favourite school of Dickens and of Balzac, 
and turns out yearly many inglorious masters 
in the Science of the Aspects of Life. Suffice 
it to say this : if a lad does not learn in the 
streets, it is because he has no faculty of 

112 An Apology for Idlers 

learning. Nor is the truant always in the 
streets, for if he prefers, he may go out by 
the gardened suburbs into the country. He 
may pitch on some tuft of lilacs over a burn, 
and smoke innumerable pipes to the tune of 
the water on the stones. A bird will sing 
in the thicket. And there he may fall into 
a vein of kindly thought, and see things in 
a new perspective. Why, if this be not 
education, what is? We may conceive Mr. 
Worldly Wiseman accosting such an one, 
and the conversation that should thereupon 
ensue : — 

" How now, young fellow, what dost thou 

" Truly, sir, I take mine ease." 
" Is not this the hour of the class ? and 
should'st thou not be plying thy Book with 
diligence, to the end thou mayest obtain 
knowledge ? " 

" Nay, but thus also I follow after Learn- 
ing, by your leave." 

"Learning, quotha! After what fashion, 
I pray thee ? Is it mathematics ?" 

An Apology for Idlers 1 1 3 

" No, to be sure." 

"Is it metaphysics?" 

" Nor that." 

" Is it some language ?" 

" Nay, it is no language." 

"Is it a trade?" 

" Nor a trade neither." 

"Why, then, what is't?" 

" Indeed, sir, as a time may soon come for 
me to go upon Pilgrimage, I am desirous to 
note what is commonly done by persons in 
my case, and where are the ugliest Sloughs 
and Thickets on the Road ; as also, what 
manner of Staff is of the best service. 
Moreover, I lie here, by this water, to learn 
by root-of-heart a lesson which my master 
teaches me to call Peace, or Contentment." 

Hereupon Mr. Worldly Wiseman was 
much commoved with passion, and shaking 
his cane with a very threatful countenance, 
broke forth upon this wise : " Learning, 
quotha !" said he ; "I would have all such 
rogues scourged by the Hangman !" 

And so he would go his way, ruffling out 

114 ^ ^ Apology for Idlers 

his cravat with a crackle of starch, like a 
turkey when it spread its feathers. 

Now this, of Mr. Wiseman's, is the common 
opinion. A fact is not called a fact, but a 
piece of gossip, if it does not fall into one 
of your scholastic categories. An inquiry 
must be in some acknowledged direction, 
with a name to go by ; or else you are not 
inquiring at all, only lounging ; and the work- 
house is too good for you. It is supposed 
that all knowledge is at the bottom of a 
well, or the far end of a telescope. Sainte- 
Beuve, as he grew older, came to regard all 
experience as a single great book, in which 
to study for a few years ere we go hence ; 
and it seemed all one to him whether you 
should read in Chapter xx., which is the 
differential calculus, or in Chapter xxxix., 
which is hearing the band play in the 
gardens. As a matter of fact, an intelligent 
person, looking out of his eyes and hearken- 
ing in his ears, with a smile on his face all 
the time, will get more true education than 
many another in a life of heroic vigils. 

An Apology for Idlers 115 

There is certainly some chill and arid know- 
ledge to be found upon the summits of 
formal and laborious science ; but it is all 
round about you, and for the trouble of 
looking, that you will acquire the warm and 
palpitating facts of life. While others are 
filling their memory with a lumber of words, 
one-half of which they will forget before the 
week be out, your truant may learn some 
really useful art : to play the fiddle, to know 
a good cigar, or to speak with ease and 
opportunity to all varieties of men. Many 
who have "plied their book diligently," and 
know all about some one branch or another 
of accepted lore, come out of the study with 
an ancient and owl -like demeanour, and 
prove dry, stockish, and dyspeptic in all 
the better and brighter parts of life. Many 
make a large fortune, who remain under- 
bred and pathetically stupid to the last. 
And meantime there goes the idler, who 
began life along with them — by your leave, 
a different picture. He has had time to 
take care of his health and his spirits ; he 

1 1 6 An Apology for Idlers 

has been a great deal in the open air, which 
is the most salutary of all things for both 
body and mind ; and if he has never read 
the great Book in very recondite places, he 
has dipped into it and skimmed it over to 
excellent purpose. Might not the student 
afford some Hebrew roots, and the business 
man some of his half-crowns, for a share of 
the idler's knowledge of life at large, and 
Art of Living? Nay, and the idler has 
another and more important quality than 
these. I mean his wisdom. He who has 
much looked on at the childish satisfaction 
of other people in their hobbies, will regard 
his own with only a very ironical indulgence. 
He will not be heard among the dogmatists. 
He will have a great and cool allowance 
for all sorts of people and opinions. If he 
finds no out-of-the-way truths, he will identify 
himself with no very burning falsehood. His 
way takes him along a by-road, not much 
frequented, but very even and pleasant, 
which is called Commonplace Lane, and 
leads to the Belvedere of Commonsense. 

An Apology for Idlers 117 

Thence he shall command an agreeable, if 
no very noble prospect ; and while others 
behold the East and West, the Devil and 
the Sunrise, he will be contentedly aware of 
a sort of morning hour upon all sublunary 
things, with an army of shadows running 
speedily and in many different directions 
into the great daylight of Eternity. The 
shadows and the generations, the shrill 
doctors and the plangent wars, go by into 
ultimate silence and emptiness ; but under- 
neath all this, a man may see, out of the 
Belvedere windows, much green and peace- 
ful landscape ; many firelit parlours ; good 
people laughing, drinking, and making love 
as they did before the Flood or the French 
Revolution ; and the old shepherd telling 
his tale under the hawthorn. 

Extreme busyness^ whether at school or 
college, kirk or market, is a symptom of 
deficient vitality ; and a faculty for idleness 
implies a catholic appetite and a strong 
sense of personal identity. There is a sort 
of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who 

ii8 An Apology for Idlers 

are scarcely conscious of living except in 
the exercise of some conventional occupation. 
Bring these fellows into the country, or set 
them aboard ship, and you will see how 
they pine for their desk or their study. 
They have no curiosity ; they cannot give 
themselves over to random provocations ; 
they do not take pleasure in the exercise 
of their faculties for its own sake ; and 
unless Necessity lays about them with a 
stick, they will even stand still. It is no 
good speaking to such folk : they cannot 
be idle, their nature is not generous enough ; 
and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, 
which are not dedicated to furious moiling 
in the gold-mill. When they do not require 
to go to the office, when they are not 
hungry and have no mind to drink, the 
whole breathing world is a blank to them. 
If they have to wait an hour or so for a 
train, they fall into a stupid trance with 
their eyes open. To see them, you would 
suppose there was nothing to look at and 
no one to speak with ; you would imagine 

An Apology for Idlers 1 1 9 

they were paralysed or alienated ; and yet 
very possibly they are hard workers in their 
own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw 
in a deed or a turn of the market. They 
have been to school and college, but all the 
time they had their eye on the medal ; they 
have gone about in the world and mixed 
with clever people, but all the time they 
were thinking of their own affairs. As if 
a man's soul were not too small to begin 
with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs 
by a life of all work and no play ; until 
here they are at forty, with a listless atten- 
tion, a mind vacant of all material of 
amusement, and not one thought to rub 
against another, while they wait for the 
train. Before he was breeched, he might 
have clambered on the boxes ; when he was 
twenty, he would have stared at the girls ; 
but now the pipe is smoked out, the snuff- 
box empty, and my gentleman sits bolt 
upright upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. 
This does not appeal to me as being Success 
in Life. 

120 An Apology for Idlers 

But it is not only the person himself who 
suffers from his busy habits, but his wife and 
children, his friends and relations, and down 
to the very people he sits with in a railway 
carriage or an omnibus. Perpetual devotion 
to what a man calls his business, is only to 
be sustained by perpetual neglect of many 
other things. And it is not by any means 
certain that a man's business is the most 
important thing he has to do. To an 
impartial estimate it will seem clear that 
many of the wisest, most virtuous, and most 
beneficent parts that are to be played upon 
the Theatre of Life are filled by gratuitous 
performers, and pass, among the world at 
large, as phases of idleness. For in that 
Theatre, not only the walking gentlemen, 
singing chambermaids, and diligent fiddlers 
in the orchestra, but those who look on and 
clap their hands from the benches, do really 
play a part and fulfil important offices 
towards the general result. You are no 
doubt very dependent on the care of your 
lawyer and stockbroker, of the guards and 

An Apology for Idlers 121 

signalmen who convey you rapidly from 
place to place, and the policemen who walk 
the streets for your protection ; but is there 
not a thought of gratitude in your heart for 
certain other benefactors who set you smiling 
when they fall in your way, or season your 
dinner with good company ? Colonel New- 
come helped to lose his friend's money ; 
Fred Bayham had an ugly trick of borrowing 
shirts ; and yet they were better people to 
fall among than Mr. Barnes. And though 
Falstaff was neither sober nor very honest, I 
think I could name one or two long-faced 
Barabbases whom the world could better 
have done without. Hazlitt mentions that 
he was more sensible of obligation to North- 
cote, who had never done him anything he 
could call a service, than to his whole circle 
of ostentatious friends ; for he thought a 
good companion emphatically the greatest 
benefactor. I know there are people in the 
world who cannot feel grateful unless the 
favour has been done them at the cost of 
pain and difficulty. But this is a churlish 

12 2 An Apology for Idlers 

disposition. A man may send you six 
sheets of letter-paper covered with the most 
entertaining gossip, or you may pass half an 
hour pleasantly, perhaps profitably, over an 
article of his ; do you think the service 
would be greater, if he had made the manu- 
script in his heart's blood, like a compact 
with the devil ? Do you really fancy you 
should be more beholden to your corres- 
pondent, if he had been damning you all 
the while for your importunity? Pleasures 
are more beneficial than duties because, like 
the quality of mercy, they are not strained, 
and they are twice blest. There must always 
be two to a kiss, and there may be a score 
in a jest ; but wherever there is an element 
of sacrifice, the favour is conferred with pain, 
and, among generous people, received with 
confusion. There is no duty we so much 
underrate as the duty of being happy. By 
being happy, we sow anonymous benefits 
upon the world, which remain unknown even 
to ourselves, or when they are disclosed, sur- 
prise nobody so much as the benefactor. 

A n Apology for Idlers 123 

The other day, a ragged, barefoot boy ran 
down the street after a marble, with so jolly 
an air that he set every one he passed into a 
good humour ; one of these persons, who 
had been delivered from more than usually 
black thougjits, stopped the little fellow and 
gave him some money with this remark : 
" You see what sometimes comes of looking 
pleased." If he had looked pleased before, 
he had now to look both pleased and mysti- 
fied. For my part, I justify this encourage- 
ment of smiling rather than tearful children ; 
I do not wish to pay for tears anywhere but 
upon the stage ; but I am prepared to deal 
largely in the opposite commodity. A happy 
man or woman is a better thing to find than 
a five-pound note. He or she is a radiating 
focus of goodwill ; and their entrance into a 
room is as though another candle had been 
lighted. We need not care whether they 
could prove the forty -seventh proposition ; 
they do a better thing than that, they prac- 
tically demonstrate the great Theorem of the 
Liveableness of Life. Consequently, if a 

124 ^ ^^ Apology for Idlers 

person cannot be happy without remaining 
idle, idle he should remain. It is a revolu- 
tionary precept ; but thanks to hunger and 
the workhouse, one not easily to be abused ; 
and within practical limits, it is one of the 
most incontestable truths in the whole Body 
of Morality. Look at one of your industrious 
fellows for a moment, I beseech you. He 
sows hurry and reaps indigestion ; he puts 
a vast deal of activity out to interest, and 
receives a large measure of nervous derange- 
ment in return. Either he absents himself 
entirely from all fellowship, and lives a 
recluse in a garret, with carpet slippers and 
a leaden inkpot ; or he comes among people 
swiftly and bitterly, in a contraction of his 
whole nervous system, to discharge some 
temper before he returns to work. I do not 
care how much or how well he works, this 
fellow is an evil feature in other people's 
lives. They would be happier if he were 
dead. They could easier do without his 
services in the Circumlocution Office, than 
they can tolerate his fractious spirits. He 

An Apology for Idlers 125 

poisons life at the well-head. It is better to 
be beggared out of hand by a scapegrace 
nephew, than daily hag-ridden by a peevish 

And what, in God's name, is all this 
pother about? For what cause do they 
embitter their own and other people's lives ? 
That a man should publish three or thirty 
articles a year, that he should finish or not 
finish his great allegorical picture, are ques- 
tions of little interest to the world. The 
ranks of life are full ; and although a thou- 
sand fall, there are always some to go into 
the breach. When they told Joan of Arc 
she should be at home minding women's 
work, she answered there were plenty to spin 
and wash. And so, even with your own rare 
gifts ! When nature is " so careless of the 
single life," why should we coddle ourselves 
into the fancy that our own is of exceptional 
importance ? Suppose Shakespeare had been 
knocked on the head some dark night in Sir 
Thomas Lucy's preserves, the world would 
have wagged on better or worse, the pitcher 

126 An Apology for Idlers 

gone to the well, the scythe to the corn, and 
the student to his book ; and no one been 
any the wiser of the loss. There are not 
many works extant, if you look the alter- 
native all over, which are worth the price of 
a pound of tobacco to a man of limited 
means. This is a sobering reflection for the 
proudest of our earthly vanities. Even a 
tobacconist may, upon consideration, find no 
great cause for personal vainglory in the 
phrase ; for although tobacco is an admirable 
sedative, the qualities necessary for retailing 
it are neither rare nor precious in themselves. 
Alas and alas ! you may take it how you 
will, but the services of no single individual 
are indispensable. Atlas was just a gentle- 
man with a protracted nightmare ! And yet 
you see merchants who go and labour them- 
selves into a great fortune and thence into 
the bankruptcy court ; scribblers who keep 
scribbling at little articles until their temper 
is a cross to all who come about them, as 
though Pharaoh should set the Israelites to 
make a pin instead of a pyramid ; and fine 

A n Apology for Idlers 127 

young men who work themselves into a 
decline, and are driven off in a hearse with 
white plumes upon it. Would you not sup- 
pose these persons had been whispered, by 
the Master of the Ceremonies, the promise of 
some momentous destiny? and that this 
lukewarm bullet on which they play their 
farces was the bull's-eye and centrepoint of 
all the universe ? And yet it is not so. The 
ends for which they give away their priceless 
youth, for all they know, may be chimerical 
or hurtful ; the glory and riches they expect 
may never come, or may find them indif- 
ferent ; and they and the world they inhabit 
are so inconsiderable that the mind freezes 
at the thought. 


"D Y a curious irony of fate, the places to 
which we are sent when health deserts 
us are often singularly beautiful. Often, too, 
they are places we have visited in former 
years, or seen briefly in passing by, and kept 
ever afterwards in pious memory ; and we 
please ourselves with the fancy that we shall 
repeat many vivid and pleasurable sensations, 
and take up again the thread of our enjoy- 
ment in the same spirit as we let it fall. We 
shall now have an opportunity of finishing 
many pleasant excursions, interrupted of yore 
before our curiosity was fully satisfied. It 
may be that we have kept in mind, during 
all these years, the recollection of some valley 
into which we have just looked down for a 
moment before we lost sight of it in the dis- 

Ordered South 129 

order of the hills ; it may be that we have 
lain awake at night, and agreeably tantalised 
ourselves with the thought of corners we had 
never turned, or summits we had all but 
climbed : we shall now be able, as we tell 
ourselves, to complete all these unfinished 
pleasures, and pass beyond the barriers that 
confined our recollections. 

The promise is so great, and we are all so 
easily led away when hope and memory are 
both in one story, that I daresay the sick 
man is not very inconsolable when he receivea 
sentence of banishment, and is inclined to 
regard his ill-health as not the least fortunate 
accident of his life. Nor is he immediately 
undeceived. The stir and speed of the 
journey, and the restlessness that goes to 
bed with him as he tries to sleep between 
two day§ of noisy progress, fever him, and 
stimulate his dull nerves into something of 
their old quickness and sensibility. And so 
he can enjoy the faint autumnal splendour of 
the landscape, as he sees hill and plain, vine- 
yard and forest, clad in one wonderful glory 

130 Ordered South 

of fairy gold, which the first great winds of 
winter will transmute, as in the fable, into 
withered leaves. And so too he can enjoy 
the admirable brevity and simplicity of such 
little glimpses of country and country ways 
as flash upon him through the windows of 
the train ; little glimpses that have a char- 
acter all their own ; sights seen as a travelling 
swallow might see them from the wing, or 
Iris as she went abroad over the land on 
some Olympian errand. Here and there, 
indeed, a few children huzzah and wave their 
hands to the express ; but for the most part, 
it is an interruption too brief and isolated to 
attract much notice ; the sheep do not cease 
from browsing ; a girl sits balanced on the 
projecting tiller of a canal boat, so precari- 
ously that it seems as if a fly or the splash 
of a leaping fish would be enough to over- 
throw the dainty equilibrium, and yet all 
these hundreds of tons of coal and wood and 
iron have been precipitated roaring past her 
very ear, and there is not a start, not a tremor, 
not a turn of the averted head, to indicate 

Ordered South 131 

that she has been even conscious of its 
passage. Herein, I think, lies the chief 
attraction of railway travel. The speed is 
so easy, and the train disturbs so little the 
scenes through which it takes us, that our 
heart becomes full of the placidity and still- 
ness of the country ; and while the body is 
borne forward in the flying chain of carriages, 
the thoughts alight, as the humour moves 
them, at unfrequented stations ; they make 
haste up the poplar alley that leads toward 
the town ; they are left behind with the 
signalman as, shading his eyes with his hand, 
he watches the long train sweep away into 
the golden distance. 

Moreover, there is still before the invalid 
the shock of wonder and delight with which 
he will learn that he has passed the indefin- 
able line that separates South from North. 
And this is an uncertain moment ; for some- 
times the consciousness is forced upon him 
early, on the occasion of some slight associa- 
tion, a colour, a flower, or a scent ; and 
sometimes not until, one fine morning, he 

132 Ordered South 

wakes up with the southern sunshine peeping 
through the persiennes, and the southern 
patois confusedly audible below the windows. 
Whether it come early or late, however, this 
pleasure will not end with the anticipation, 
as do so many others of the same family. 
It will leave him wider awake than it found 
him, and give a new significance to all he 
may see for many days to come. There is 
something in the mere name of the South 
that carries enthusiasm along with it. At 
the sound of the word, he pricks up his ears ; 
he becomes as anxious to seek out beauties 
and to get by heart the permanent lines and 
character of the landscape, as if he had been 
told that it was all his own — an estate out 
of which he had been kept unjustly, and 
which he was now to receive in free and full 
possession. Even those who have never 
been there before feel as if they had been ; 
and everybody goes comparing, and seeking 
for the familiar, and finding it with such, 
ecstasies of recognition, that one would think 
they were coming home after a weary ab- 

Ordered South 133 

sence, instead of travelling hourly farther 

It is only after he is fairly arrived and 
settled down in his chosen corner, that the 
invalid begins to understand the change that 
has befallen him. Everything about him is 
as he had remembered, or as he had antici- 
pated. Here, at his feet, under his eyes, are 
the olive gardens and the blue sea. Nothing 
can change the eternal magnificence of form 
of the naked Alps behind Mentone ; nothing, 
not even the crude curves of the railway, can 
utterly deform the suavity of contour of one 
bay after another along the whole reach of the 
Riviera. And of all this, he has only a cold 
head knowledge that is divorced from enjoy- 
ment. He recognises with his intelligence 
that this thing and that thing is beautiful, 
while in his heart of hearts he has to confess 
that it is not beautiful for him. It is in vain 
that he spurs his discouraged spirit ; in vain 
that he chooses out points of view, and 
stands there, looking with all his eyes, and 
waiting for some return of the pleasure that 

134 Ordered South 

he remembers in other days, as the sick folk 
may have awaited the coming of the angel at 
the pool of Bethesda. He is like an enthu- 
siast leading about with him a stolid, indiffer- 
ent tourist. There is some one by who is 
out of sympathy with the scene, and is not 
moved up to the measure of the occasion ; 
and that some one is himself. The world is 
disenchanted for him. He seems to himself 
to touch things with muffled hands, and to 
see them through a veil. His life becomes a 
palsied fumbling after notes that are silent 
when he has found and struck them. He 
cannot recognise that this phlegmatic and 
unimpressionable body with which he now 
goes burthened, is the same that he knew 
heretofore so quick and delicate and alive. 

He is tempted to lay the blame on the 
very softness and amenity of the climate, and 
to fancy that in the rigours of the winter at 
home, these dead emotions would revive and 
flourish. A longing for the brightness and 
silence of fallen snow seizes him at such times. 
He is homesick for the hale rough weather ; 

Ordered South 135 

for the tracery of the frost upon his window- 
panes at morning, the reluctant descent of 
the first flakes, and the white roofs relieved 
against the sombre sky. And yet the stuff 
of which these yearnings are made, is of the 
flimsiest : if but the thermometer fall a little 
below its ordinary Mediterranean level, or a 
wind come down from the snow-clad Alps 
behind, the spirit of his fancies changes upon 
the instant, and many a doleful vignette of 
the grim wintry streets at home returns to 
him, and begins to haunt his memory. The 
hopeless, huddled attitude of tramps in door- 
ways ; the flinching gait of barefoot children 
on the icy pavement ; the sheen of the rainy 
streets towards afternoon ; the meagre anatomy 
of the poor defined by the clinging of wet 
garments ; the high canorous note of the 
North-easter on days when the very houses 
seem to stiffen with cold : these, and such as 
these, crowd back upon him, and mockingly 
substitute themselves for the fanciful winter 
scenes with which he had pleased himself a 
while before. He cannot be glad enough 

136 Ordered South 

that he is where he is. If only the others 
could be there also ; if only those tramps 
could lie down for a little in the sunshine, 
and those children warm their feet, this once, 
upon a kindlier earth ; if only there were no 
cold anywhere, and no nakedness, and no 
hunger ; if only it were as well with all men 
as it is with him ! 

For it is not altogether ill with the invalid, 
after all. If it is only rarely that anything 
penetrates vividly into his numbed spirit, yet, 
when anything does, it brings with it a joy 
that is all the more poignant for its very 
rarity. There is something pathetic in these 
occasional returns of a glad activity of heart. 
In his lowest hours he will be stirred and 
awakened by many such ; and they will 
spring perhaps from very trivial sources ; as 
a friend once said to me, the " spirit of de- 
light " comes often on small wings. For the 
pleasure that we take in beautiful nature is 
essentially capricious. It comes sometimes 
when we least look for it ; and sometimes, 
when we expect it most certainly, it leaves 

Ordered South 1 3 7 

us to gape joylessly for days together, in the 
very home-land of the beautiful. We may 
have passed a place a thousand times and 
one ; and on the thousand and second it will 
be transfigured, and stand forth in a certain 
splendour of reality from the dull circle of 
surroundings ; so that we see it " with a 
child's first pleasure," as Wordsworth saw 
the daffodils by the lake side. And if this 
falls out capriciously with the healthy, how 
much more so with the invalid. Some day 
he will find his first violet, and be lost in 
pleasant wonder, by what alchemy the cold 
earth of the clods, and the vapid air and 
rain, can be transmuted into colour so rich 
and odour so touchingly sweet. Or perhaps 
he may see a group of washerwomen relieved, 
on a spit of shingle, against the blue sea, or 
a meeting of flower-gatherers in the tempered 
daylight of an olive-garden ; and something 
significant or monumental in the grouping, 
something in the harmony of faint colour 
that is always characteristic of the dress of 
these southern women, will fcome home to 

1 3 8 Ordered South 

him unexpectedly, and awake in him that 
satisfaction with which we tell ourselves that 
we are the richer by one more beautiful 
experience. Or it may be something even 
slighter : as when the opulence of the sun- 
shine, which somehow gets lost and fails to 
produce its effect on the large scale, is 
suddenly revealed to him by the chance 
isolation — as he changes the position of his 
sunshade — of a yard or two of roadway with 
its stones and weeds. And then, there is no 
end to the infinite variety of the olive-yards 
themselves. Even the colour is indeterminate 
and continually shifting : now you would 
say it was green, now gray, now blue ; now 
tree stands above tree, like " cloud on cloud," 
massed into filmy indistinctness ; and now, 
at the wind's will, the whole sea of foliage is 
shaken and broken up with little momentary 
silverings and shadows. But every one sees 
the world in his own way. To some the 
glad moment may have arrived on other 
provocations ; and their recollection may be 
most vivid of the stately gait of women 

Ordered South 139 

carrying burthens on their heads ; of tropical 
effects, with canes and naked rock and sun- 
Hght ; of the' relief of cypresses; of the 
troubled, busy-looking groups of sea-pines, 
that seem always as if they were being 
wielded and swept together by a whirlwind ; 
of the air coming, laden with virginal per- 
fumes, over the myrtles and the scented 
underwood ; of the empurpled hills standing 
up, solemn and sharp, out of the green-gold 
air of the east at evening. 

There go many elements, without doubt, 
to the making of one such moment of intense 
perception ; and it is on the happy agreement 
of these many elements, on the harmonious 
vibration of many nerves, that the whole 
delight of the moment must depend. Who 
can forget how, when he has chanced upon 
some attitude of complete restfulness, after 
long uneasy rolling to and fro on grass or 
heather, the whole fashion of the landscape 
has been changed for him, as though the sun 
had just broken forth, or a great artist had 
only then completed, by some cunning touch. 

1 40 Ordered South 

the composition of the picture? And not 
only a change of posture — a snatch of 
perfume, the sudden singing of a bird, the 
freshness of some pulse of air from an invisible 
sea, the light shadow of a travelling cloud, 
the merest nothing that sends a little shiver 
along the most infinitesimal nerve of a man's 
body — not one of the least of these but has 
a hand somehow in the general effect, and 
brings some refinement of its own into the 
character of the pleasure we feel. 

And if the external conditions are thus 
varied and subtle, even more so are those 
within our own bodies. No man can find 
out the world, says Solomon, from beginning 
to end, because the world is in his heart ; 
and so it is impossible for any of us to 
understand, from beginning to end, that 
agreement of harmonious circumstances that 
creates in us the highest pleasure of admira- 
tion, precisely because some of these circum- 
stances are hidden from us for ever in the 
constitution of our own bodies. After we 
have reckoned up all that we can see or hear 

Ordered South 1 4 1 

or feel, there still remains to be taken into 
account some sensibility more delicate than 
usual in the nerves affected, or some exquisite 
refinement in the architecture of the brain, 
which is indeed to the sense of the beautiful 
as the eye or the ear to the sense of hearing 
or sight We admire splendid views and 
great pictures ; and yet what is truly admir- 
able is rather the mind within us, that 
gathers together these scattered details for 
its delight, and makes out of certain colours, 
certain distributions of graduated light and 
darkness, that intelligible whole which alone 
we call a picture or a view. Hazlitt, relating 
in one of his essays how he went on foot 
from one great man's house to another's in 
search of works of art, begins suddenly to 
triumph over these noble and wealthy owners, 
because he was more capable of enjoying 
their costly possessions than they were ; 
because they had paid the money and he had 
received the pleasure. And the occasion is 
a fair one for self-complacency. While the 
one man was working to be able to buy the 

1 4 2 Ordered South 

picture, the other was working to be able to 
enjoy the picture. An inherited aptitude 
will have been diligently improved in either 
case ; only the one man has made for himself 
a fortune, and the other has made for himself 
a living spirit. It is a fair occasion for self- 
complacency, I repeat, when the event shows 
a man to have chosen the better part, and 
laid out his life more wisely, in the long run, 
than those who have credit for most wisdom. 
And yet even this is not a good unmixed ; 
and like all other possessions, although in a 
less degree, the possession of a brain that 
has been thus improved and cultivated, and 
made into the prime organ of a man's enjoy- 
ment, brings with it certain inevitable cares 
and disappointments. The happiness of such 
an one comes to depend greatly upon those 
fine shades of sensation that heighten and 
harmonise the coarser elements of beauty. 
And thus a degree of nervous prostration, 
that to other men would be hardly disagreeable, 
is enough to overthrow for him the whole 
fabric of his life, to take, except at rare 

Ordered South 143 

moments, the edge off his pleasures, and to 
meet him wherever he goes with failure, and 
the sense of want, and disenchantment of the 
world and life. 

It is not in such numbness of spirit only 
that the life of the invalid resembles a pre- 
mature old age. Those excursions that he 
had promised himself to finish, prove too 
long or too arduous for his feeble body ; 
and the barrier-hills are as impassable as 
ever. Many a white town that sits far out 
on the promontory, many a comely fold of 
wood on the mountain side, beckons and 
allures his imagination day after day, and is 
yet as inaccessible to his feet as the clefts 
and gorges of the clouds. The sense of 
distance grows upon him wonderfully ; and 
after some feverish efforts and the fretful 
uneasiness of the first few days, he falls 
contentedly in with the restrictions of his 
weakness. His narrow round becomes plea- 
sant and familiar to him as the cell to a 
contented prisoner. Just as he has fallen 
already out of the mid race of active life, he 

1 44 Ordered South 

now falls out of the little eddy that circulates 
in the shallow waters of the sanatorium. 
He sees the country people come and go 
about their everyday affairs, the foreigners 
stream out in goodly pleasure parties ; the 
stir of man's activity is all about him, as he 
suns himself inertly in some sheltered corner ; 
and he looks on with a patriarchal imperson- 
ality of interest, such as a man may feel 
when he pictures to himself the fortunes of 
his remote descendants, or the robust old age 
of the oak he has planted over-night. 

In this falling aside, in this quietude and 
desertion of other men, there is no inhar- 
monious prelude to the last quietude and 
desertion of the grave ; in this dulness of 
the senses there is a gentle preparation for 
the final insensibility of death. And to him 
the idea of mortality comes in a shape less 
violent and harsh than is its wont, less as 
an abrupt catastrophe than as a thing of 
infinitesimal gradation, and the last step on 
a long decline of way. As we turn to and 
fro in bed, and every moment the movements 

Ordered South 145 

grow feebler and smaller and the attitude 
more restful and easy, until sleep overtakes 
us at a stride and we move no more, so 
desire after desire leaves him ; day by day 
his strength decreases, and the circle of his 
activity grows ever narrower ; and he feels, 
if he is to be thus tenderly weaned from the 
passion of life, thus gradually inducted into 
the slumber of death, that when at last the 
end comes, it will come quietly and fitly. 
If anything is to reconcile poor spirits to the 
coming of the last enemy, surely it should 
be such a mild approach as this ; not to hale 
us forth with violence, but to persuade us 
from a place we have no further pleasure in. 
It is not so much, indeed, death that 
approaches as life that withdraws and withers 
up from round about him. He has outlived 
his own usefulness, and almost his own 
enjoyment ; and if there is to be no recovery; 
if never again will he be young and strong 
and passionate, if the actual present shall be 
to him always like a thing read in a book or 
remembered out of the far-away past ; if, in 

146 Ordered South 

fact, this be veritably nightfall, he will not 
wish greatly for the continuance of a twilight 
that only strains and disappoints the eyes, 
but steadfastly await the perfect darkness. 
He will pray for Medea : when she comes, 
let her either rejuvenate or slay. 

And yet the ties that still attach him to 
the world are many and kindly. The sight 
of children has a significance for him such 
as it may have for the aged also, but not for 
others. If he has been used to feel humanely, 
and to look upon life somewhat more widely 
than from the narrow loophole of personal 
pleasure and advancement, it is strange how 
small a portion of his thoughts will be changed 
or embittered by this proximity of death. 
He knows that already, in English counties, 
the sower follows the ploughman up the face 
of the field, and the rooks follow the sower ; 
and he knows also that he may not live to 
go home again and see the corn spring and 
ripen, and be cut down at last, and brought- 
home with gladness. And yet the future of 
this harvest, the continuance of drought or 

Ordered South 147 

the coming of rain unseasonably, touch him 
as sensibly as ever. For he has long been 
used to wait with interest the issue of events 
in which his own concern was nothing ; and 
to be joyful in a plenty, and sorrowful for a 
famine, that did not increase or diminish, by 
one half loaf, the equable sufficiency of his 
own supply. Thus there remain unaltered 
all the disinterested hopes for mankind and 
a better future which have been the solace 
and inspiration of his life. These he has set 
beyond the reach of any fate that only 
menaces himself; and it makes small differ- 
ence whether he die five thousand years, or 
five thousand and fifty years, before the good 
epoch for which he faithfully labours. He 
has not deceived himself; he has known 
from the beginning that he followed the 
pillar of fire and cloud, only to perish himself 
in the wilderness, and that it was reserved 
for others to enter joyfully into possession of 
the land. And so, as everything grows 
grayer and quieter about him, and slopes 
towards extinction, these unfaded visions 

148 Ordered South 

accompany his sad decline, and follow him, 
with friendly voices and hopeful words, into 
the very vestibule of death. The desire of 
love or of fame scarcely moved him, in his 
days of health, more strongly than these 
generous aspirations move him now ; and so 
life is carried forward beyond life, and a vista 
kept open for the eyes of hope, even when 
his hands grope already on the face of the 

Lastly, he is bound tenderly to life by the 
thought of his friends ; or shall we not say 
rather, that by their thought for him, by their 
unchangeable solicitude and love, he remains 
woven into the very stuff of life, beyond the 
power of bodily dissolution to undo ? In a 
thousand ways will he survive and be per- 
petuated. Much of Etienne de la Boetie 
survived during all the years in which 
Montaigne continued to converse with him 
on the pages of the ever-delightful essays. 
Much of what was truly Goethe was dead 
already when he revisited places that knew 
him no more, and found no better consolation 

Ordered South 1 49 

than the promise of his own verses, that soon 
he too would be at rest. Indeed, when we 
think of what it is that we most seek and 
cherish, and find most pride and pleasure in 
calling ours, it will sometimes seem to us as 
if our friends, at our decease, would suffer 
loss more truly than ourselves. As a monarch 
who should care more for the outlying 
colonies he knows on the map or through 
the report of his vicegerents, than for the 
trunk of his empire under his eyes at home, 
are we not more concerned about the shadowy 
life that we have in the hearts of others, and 
that portion in their thoughts and fancies 
which, in a certain far-away sense, belongs 
to us, than about the real knot of our identity 
— that central metropolis of self, of which 
alone we are immediately aware — or the 
diligent service of arteries and veins and 
infinitesimal activity of ganglia, which we 
know (as we know a proposition in Euclid) 
to be the source and substance of the whole? 
At the death of every one whom we love, 
some fair and honourable portion of our 

150 Ordered South 

existence falls away, and we are dislodged 
from one of these dear provinces ; and they 
are not, perhaps, the most fortunate who 
survive a long series of such impoverishments, 
till their life and influence narrow gradually 
into the meagre limit of their own spirits, 
and death, when he comes at last, can destroy 
them at one blow. 

Note. — To this essay I must in honesty append a 
word or two of quaHfication ; for this is one of the 
points on which a sHghtly greater age teaches us a 
slightly different wisdom : 

A youth delights in generalities, and keeps loose 
from particular obligations ; he jogs on the footpath 
way, himself pursuing butterflies, but courteously 
lending his applause to the advance of the human 
species and the coming of the kingdom of justice and 
love. As he grows older, he begins to think more 
narrowly of man's action in the general, and perhaps 
more arrogantly of his own in the particular. He 
has not that same unspeakable trust in what he 
would have done had he been spared, seeing finally 
that that would have been little ; but he has a far 
higher notion of the blank that he will make by 
dying. A young man feels himself one too many in 
the world ; his is a painful situation : he has no 
calling ; no obvious utility ; no ties, but to his parents, 
and these he is sure to disregard. I do not think 

Ordered South 151 

that a proper allowance has been made for this true 
cause of suffering in youth ; but by the mere fact of 
a prolonged existence, we outgrow either the fact or 
else the feeling. Either we become so callously 
accustomed to our own useless figure in the world, or 
else — and this, thank God, in the majority of cases — 
we so collect about us the interest or the love of our 
fellows, so multiply our effective part in the affairs of 
life, that we need to entertain no longer the question 
of our right to be. 

And so in the majority of cases, a man who fancies 
himself dying, will get cold comfort from the very 
youthful view expressed in this essay. He, as a living 
man, has some to help, some to love, some to correct ; 
it may be, some to punish. These duties cling, not 
upon humanity, but upon the man himself. It is he, 
not another, who is one woman's son and a second 
woman's husband and a third woman's father. That 
life which began so small, has now grown, with a 
myriad filaments, into the lives of others. It is not in- 
dispensable ; another will take the place and shoulder 
the discharged responsibility ; but the better the man 
and the nobler his purposes, the more will he be 
tempted to regret the extinction of his powers and 
the deletion of his personality. To have lived a 
generation, is not only to have grown at home in that 
perplexing medium, but to have assumed innumerable 
duties. To die at such an age, has, for all but the 
entirely base, something of the air of a betrayal. A 
man does not only reflect upon what he might have 
done in a future that is never to be his ; but beholding 
himself so early a deserter from the fight, he eats his 

152 Ordered South 

heart for the good he might have done aheady. To 
have been so useless and now to lose all hope of 
being useful any more — there it is that death and 
memory assail him. And even if mankind shall go 
on, founding heroic cities, practising heroic virtues, 
rising steadily from strength to strength ; even if his 
work shall be fulfilled, his friends consoled, his wife 
remarried by a better than he ; how shall this alter, 
in one jot, his estimation of a career which was his 
only business in this world, which was so fitfully 
pursued, and which is now so ineffectively to end ? 


'X'HE changes wrought by death are in 
themselves so sharp and final, and so 
terrible and melancholy in their consequences, 
that the thing stands alone in man's experi- 
ence, and has no parallel upon earth. It 
outdoes all other accidents because it is the 
last of them. Sometimes it leaps suddenly 
upon its victims, like a Thug ; sometimes it 
lays a regular siege and creeps upon their 
citadel during a score of years. And when 
the business is done, there is sore havoc 
made in other people's lives, and a pin 
knocked out by which many subsidiary 
friendships hung together. There are empty 
chairs, solitary walks, and single beds at 
night. Again, in taking away our friends, 
death does not take them away utterly, but 

154 ^s Triplex 

leaves behind a mocking, tragical, and soon 
intolerable residue, which must be hurriedly 
concealed. Hence a whole chapter of sights 
and customs striking to the mind, from the 
pyramids of Egypt to the gibbets and dule 
trees of mediaeval Europe. The poorest 
persons have a bit of pageant going towards 
the tomb ; memorial stones are set up over 
the least memorable ; and, in order to pre- 
serve some show of respect for what remains 
of our old loves and friendships, we must 
accompany it with much grimly ludicrous 
ceremonial, and the hired undertaker parades 
before the door. All this, and much more 
of the same sort, accompanied by the 
eloquence of poets, has gone a great way 
to put humanity in error ; nay, in many 
philosophies the error has been embodied 
and laid down with every circumstance of 
logic ; although in real life the bustle and 
swiftness, in leaving people little tinie to 
think, have not left them time enough to 
go dangerously wrong in practice. 

As a matter of fact, although few things 

j^s Triplex i55 

are spoken of with more fearful whisperings 
than this prospect of death, few have less 
influence on conduct under healthy circum- 
stances. We have all heard of cities in 
South America built upon the side of fiery- 
mountains, and how, even in this tremendous 
neighbourhood, the inhabitants are not a jot 
more impressed by the solemnity of mortal 
conditions than if they were delving gardens 
in the greenest corner of England. There 
are serenades and suppers and much gallantry 
among the myrtles overhead ; and mean- 
while the foundation shudders underfoot, the 
bowels of the mountain growl, and at any 
moment living ruin may leap sky-high into 
the moonlight, and tumble man and his 
merry-making in the dust. In the eyes of 
very young people, and very dull old ones, 
there is something indescribably reckless 
and desperate in such a picture. It seems 
not credible that respectable married people, 
with umbrellas, should find appetite for a 
bit of supper within quite a long distance of 
a fiery mountain ; ordinary life begins to 

iS6 ^s Triplex 

smell of high-handed debauch when it is 
carried on so close to a catastrophe ; and 
even cheese and salad, it seems, could hardly 
be relished in such circumstances without 
something like a defiance of the Creator. 
It should be a place for nobody but hermits 
dwelling in prayer and maceration, or mere 
born -devils drowning care in a perpetual 

And yet, when one comes to think upon it 
calmly, the situation of these South American 
citizens forms only a very pale figure for 
the state of ordinary mankind. This world 
itself, travelling blindly and swiftly in over- 
crowded space, among a million other worlds 
travelling blindly and swiftly in contrary 
directions, may very well come by a knock 
that would set it into explosion like a penny 
squib. And what, pathologically looked at, 
is the human body with all its organs, but 
a mere bagful of petards ? The least of 
these is as dangerous to the whole economy 
as the ship's powder-magazine to the ship ; 
and with every breath we breathe, and every 

^s Triplex 157 

meal we eat, we are putting one or more of 
them in peril. If we clung as devotedly 
as some philosophers pretend we do to 
the abstract idea of life, or were half as 
frightened as they make out we are, for 
the subversive accident that ends it all, the 
trumpets might sound by the hour and no 
one would follow them into battle — the 
blue-peter might fly at the truck, but who 
would climb into a sea-going ship ? Think 
(if these philosophers were right) with what 
a preparation of spirit we should affront the 
daily peril of the dinner-table : a deadlier 
spot than any battle-field in history, where 
the far greater proportion of our ancestors 
have miserably left their bones ! What 
woman would ever be lured into marriage, 
so much more dangerous than the wildest 
sea ? And what would it be to grow old ? 
For, after a certain distance, every step we 
take in life we find the ice growing thinner 
below our feet, and all around us and behind us 
we see our contemporaries going through. By 
the time a man gets well into the seventies, 

158 y^s Triplex 

his continued existence is a mere miracle ; 
and when he lays his old bones in bed for 
the night, there is an overwhelming prob- 
ability that he will never see the day. Do 
the old men mind it, as a matter of fact ? 
Why, no. They were never merrier ; they 
have their grog at night, and tell the raciest 
stories ; they hear of the death of people 
about their own age, or even younger, not 
as if it was a grisly warning, but with a 
simple childlike pleasure at having outlived 
some one else ; and when a draught might 
puff them out like a guttering candle, or a 
bit of a stumble shatter them like so much 
glass, their old hearts keep sound and un- 
affrighted, and they go on, bubbling with 
laughter, through years of man's age com- 
pared to which the valley at Balaklava was 
as safe and peaceful as a village cricket-green 
on Sunday. It may fairly be questioned (if 
we look to the peril only) whether it was a 
much more daring feat for Curtius to plunge 
into the gulf, than for any old gentleman of 
ninety to doff his clothes and clamber into bed. 

y^s Triplex 1 5 9 

Indeed, it is a memorable subject for con- 
sideration, with what unconcern and gaiety 
mankind pricks on along the Valley of the 
Shadow of Death. The whole way is one 
wilderness of snares, and the end of it, for 
those who fear the last pinch, is irrevocable 
ruin. And yet we go spinning through it 
all, like a party for the Derby. Perhaps 
the reader remembers one of the humorous 
devices of the deified Caligula : how he 
encouraged a vast concourse of holiday- 
makers on to his bridge over Baise bay ; 
and when they were in the height of their 
enjoyment, turned loose the Praetorian guards 
among the company, and had them tossed 
into the sea. This is no bad miniature 
of the dealings of nature with the transitory 
race of man. Only, what a chequered picnic 
we have of it, even while it lasts ! and into 
what great waters, not to be crossed by any 
swimmer, God's pale Praetorian throws us 
over in the end ! 

We live the time that a match flickers ; 
we pop the cork of a ginger-beer bottle, and 

i6o y^s Triplex 

the earthquake swallows us on the instant. 
Is it not odd, is it not incongruous, is it not, 
in the highest sense of human speech, in- 
credible, that we should think so highly of 
the ginger -beer, and regard so little the 
devouring earthquake? The love of Life 
and the fear of Death are two famous phrases 
that grow harder to understand the more we 
think about them. It is a well-known fact 
that an immense proportion of boat accidents 
would never happen if people held the sheet 
in their hands instead of making it fast ; 
and yet, unless it be some martinet of a 
professional mariner or some landsman with 
shattered nerves, every one of God's creatures 
makes it fast. A strange instance of man's 
unconcern and brazen boldness in the face 
of death ! 

We confound ourselves with metaphysical 
phrases, which we import into daily talk with 
noble inappropriateness. We have no idea 
of what death is, apart from its circumstances 
and some of its consequences to others ; and 
although we have some experience of living, 

yEs Triplex i6i 

there is not a man on earth who has flown 
so high into abstraction as to have any 
practical guess at the meaning of the word 
life. All literature, from Job and Omar 
Khayam to Thomas Carlyle or Walt Whit- 
man, is but an attempt to look upon the 
human state with such largeness of view as 
shall enable us to rise from the consideration 
of living to the Definition of Life. And our 
sages give us about the best satisfaction in 
their power when they say that it is a vapour, 
or a show, or made out of the same stuff 
with dreams. Philosophy, in its more rigid 
sense, has been at the same work for ages ; 
and after a myriad bald heads have wagged 
over the problem, and piles of words have 
been heaped one upon another into dry and 
cloudy volumes without end, philosophy has 
the honour of laying before us, with modest 
pride, her contribution towards the subject : 
that life is a Permanent Possibility of Sensa- 
tion. Truly a fine result ! A man may 
very well love beef, or hunting, or a woman ; 
but surely, surely, not a Permanent Possibility 

1 62 ^s Triplex 

of Sensation ! He may be afraid of a preci- 
pice, or a dentist, or a large enemy with a 
club, or even an undertaker's man ; but not 
certainly of abstract death. We may trick 
with the word life in its dozen senses until 
we are weary of tricking ; we may argue in 
terms of all the philosophies on earth, but 
one fact remains true throughout — that we 
do not love life, in the sense that we are 
greatly preoccupied about its conservation ; 
that we do not, properly speaking, love life 
at all, but living. Into the views of the 
least careful there will enter some degree of 
providence ; no man's eyes are fixed entirely 
on the passing hour ; but although we have 
some anticipation of good health, good 
weather, wine, active employment, love, and 
self-approval, the sum of these anticipations 
does not amount to anything like a general 
view of life's possibilities and issues ; nor are 
those who cherish them most vividty, at all 
the most scrupulous of their personal safety. 
To be deeply interested in the accidents of 
our existence, to enjoy keenly the mixed 

^s Triplex 163 

texture of human experience, rather leads a 
man to disregard precautions, and risk his 
neck against a straw. For surely the love 
of living is stronger in an Alpine climber 
roping over a peril, or a hunter riding merrily 
at a stiff fence, than in a creature who lives 
upon a diet and walks a measured distance 
in the interest of his constitution. 

There is a great deal of very vile nonsense 
talked upon both sides of the matter : tearing 
divines reducing life to the dimensions of a 
mere funeral procession, so short as to be 
hardly decent ; and melancholy unbelievers 
yearning for the tomb as if it were a world 
too far away. Both sides must feel a little 
ashamed of their performances now and 
again when they draw in their chairs to 
dinner. Indeed, a good meal and a bottle 
of wine is an answer to most standard works 
upon the question. When a man's heart 
warms to his viands, he forgets a great deal 
of sophistry, and soars into a rosy zone of 
contemplation. Death may be knocking at 
the door, like the Commander's statue ; we 

164 ^s Triplex 

have something else in hand, thank God, and 
let him knock. Passing bells are ringing all 
the world over. All the world over, and 
every hour, some one is parting company 
with all his aches and ecstasies. For us 
also the trap is laid. But we are so fond of 
life that we have no leisure to entertain the 
terror of death. It is a honeymoon with us 
all through, and none of the longest. Small 
blame to us if we give our whole hearts to 
this glowing bride of ours, to the appetites, 
to honour, to the hungry curiosity of the 
mind, to the pleasure of the eyes in nature, 
and the pride of our own nimble bodies. 

We all of us appreciate the sensations ; 
but as for caring about the Permanence of 
the Possibility, a man's head is generally 
very bald, and his senses very dull, before he 
comes to that. Whether we regard life as a 
lane leading to a dead wall — a mere bag's 
end, as the French say — or whether we 
think of it as a vestibule or gymnasium, 
where we wait our turn and prepare our 
faculties for some more noble destiny ; 

^s Triplex 165 

whether we thunder in a pulpit, or pule in 
little atheistic poetry-books, about its vanity 
and brevity ; whether we look justly for 
years of health and vigour, or are about to 
mount into a bath-chair, as a step towards 
the hearse ; in each and all of these views 
and situations there is but one conclusion 
possible : that a man should stop his ears 
against paralysing terror, and run the race 
that is set before him with a single mind. 
No one surely could have recoiled with more 
heartache and terror from the thought of 
death than our respected lexicographer ; and 
yet we know how little it affected his con- 
duct, how wisely and boldly he walked, and 
in what a fresh and lively vein he spoke of 
life. Already an old man, he ventured on 
his Highland tour ; and his heart, bound 
with triple brass, did not recoil before twenty- 
seven individual cups of tea. As courage 
and intelligence are the two qualities best 
worth a good man's cultivation, so it is the 
first part of intelligence to recognise our 
precarious estate in life, and the first part of 

1 66 j^s Triplex 

courage to be not at all abashed before the 
fact. A frank and somewhat headlong car- 
riage, not looking too anxiously before, not 
dallying in maudlin regret over the past, 
stamps the man who is well armoured for 
this world. 

And not only well armoured for himself, 
but a good friend and a good citizen to boot. 
We do not go to cowards for tender dealing ; 
there is nothing so cruel as panic ; the man 
who has least fear for his own carcase, has 
most time to consider others. That eminent 
chemist who took his walks abroad in tin 
shoes, and subsisted wholly upon tepid milk, 
had all his work cut out for him in con- 
siderate dealings with his own digestion. 
So soon as prudence has begun to grow up 
in the brain, like a dismal fungus, it finds its 
first expression in a paralysis of generous 
acts. The victim begins to shrink spiritually ; 
he develops a fancy for parlours with a regu- 
lated temperature, and takes his morality on 
the principle of tin shoes and tepid milk. 
The care of one important body or soul 

j^s Triplex 167 

becomes so engrossing, that all the noises of 
the outer world begin to come thin and faint 
into the parlour with the regulated tempera- 
ture ; and the tin shoes go equably forward 
over blood and rain. To be overwise is to 
ossify ; and the scruple-monger ends by stand- 
ing stockstill. Now the man who has his 
heart on his sleeve, and a good whirling 
weathercock of a brain, who reckons his life 
as a thing to be dashingly used and cheerfully 
hazarded, makes a very different acquaintance 
of the world, keeps all his pulses going true 
and fast, and gathers impetus as he runs, 
until, if he be running towards anything 
better than wildfire, he may shoot up and 
become a constellation in the end. Lord 
look after his health, Lord have a care of his 
soul, says he ; and he has at the key of the 
position, and swashes through incongruity 
and peril towards his aim. Death is on all 
sides of him with pointed batteries, as he is 
on all sides of all of us ; unfortunate sur- 
prises gird him round ; mim-mouthed friends 
and relations hold up their hands in quite a 

1 68 y^s Triplex 

little elegiacal synod about his path : and 
what cares he for all this ? Being a true 
lover of living, a fellow with something 
pushing and spontaneous in his inside, he 
must, like any other soldier, in any other 
stirring, deadly warfare, push on at his best 
pace until he touch the goal. "A peerage 
or Westminster Abbey!" cried Nelson in 
his bright, boyish, heroic manner. These 
are great incentives ; not for any of these, 
but for the plain satisfaction of living, of 
being about their business in some sort or 
other, do the brave, serviceable men of every 
nation tread down the nettle danger, and 
pass flyingly over all the stumbling-blocks of 
prudence. Think of the heroism of Johnson, 
think of that superb indifference to mortal 
limitation that set him upon his dictionary, 
and carried him through triumphantly until 
the end ! Who, if he were wisely considerate 
of things at large, would ever embark upon 
any work much more considerable than a 
halfpenny post card } Who would project a 
serial novel, after Thackeray and Dickens 

^s Triplex 169 

had each fallen in mid-course ? Who would 
find heart enough to begin to live, if he 
dallied with the consideration of death ? 

And, after all, what sorry and pitiful quib- 
bling all this is ! To forego all the issues of 
living in a parlour with a regulated tempera- 
ture — as if that were not to die a hundred 
times over, and for ten years at a stretch ! 
As if it were not to die in one's own lifetime, 
and without even the sad immunities of death! 
As if it were not to die, and yet be the 
patient spectators of our own pitiable change ! 
The Permanent Possibility is preserved, but 
the sensations carefully held at arm's length, 
as if one kept a photographic plate in a dark 
chamber. It is better to lose health like a 
spendthrift than to waste it like a miser. It 
is better to live and be done with it, than to 
die daily in the sickroom. By all means 
begin your folio ; even if the doctor does not 
give you a year, even if he hesitates about a 
month, make one brave push and see what 
can be accomplished in a week. It is not 
only in finished undertakings that we ought 

I/O y^s Triplex 

to honour useful labour. A spirit goes out 
of the man who means execution, which out- 
lives the most untimely ending. All who 
have meant good work with their whole 
hearts, have done good work, although they 
may die before they have the time to sign it. 
Every heart that has beat strong and cheer- 
fully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in 
the world, and bettered the tradition of man- 
kind. And even if death catch people, like 
an open pitfall, and in mid-career, laying out 
vast projects, and planning monstrous found- 
ations, flushed with hope, and their mouths 
full of boastful language, they should be at 
once tripped up and silenced : is there not 
something brave and spirited in such a ter- 
mination ? and does not life go down with a 
better grace, foaming in full body over a 
precipice, than miserably straggling to an 
end in sandy deltas ? When the Greeks 
made their fine saying that those whom the 
gods love die young, I cannot help believing 
they had this sort of death also in their eye. 
For surely, at whatever age it overtake the 

u^s Triplex 171 

man, this is to die young. Death has not 
been suffered to take so much as an illusion 
from his heart. In the hot-fit of life, a-tip- 
toe on the highest point of being, he passes 
at a bound on to the other side. The noise 
of the mallet and chisel is scarcely quenched, 
the trumpets are hardly done blowing, when, 
trailing with him clouds of glory, this happy- 
starred, full-blooded spirit shoots into the 
spiritual land. 


T T seems as if a great deal were attainable 
in a world where there are so many 
marriages and decisive battles, and where we 
all, at certain hours of the day, and with 
great gusto and despatch, stow a portion of 
victuals finally and irretrievably into the bag 
which contains us. And it would seem also, 
on a hasty view, that the attainment of as 
much as possible was the one goal of man's 
contentious life. And yet, as regards the 
spirit, this is but a semblance. We live in 
an ascending scale when we live happily, 
one thing leading to another in an endless 
series. There is always a new horizon for 
onward-looking men, and although we dwell 
on a small planet, immersed in petty business 
and not enduring beyond a brief period of 

El Dorado 173 

years, we are so constituted that our hopes 
are inaccessible, like stars, and the term of 
hoping is prolonged until the term of life. 
To be truly happy is a question of how we 
begin and not of how we end, of what we 
want and not of what we have. An aspira- 
tion is a joy for ever, a possession as solid as 
a landed estate, a fortune which we can never 
exhaust and which gives us year by year a 
revenue of pleasurable activity. To have 
many of these is to be spiritually rich. Life 
is only a very dull and ill-directed theatre 
unless we have some interests in the piece ; 
and to those who have neither art nor science, 
the world is a mere arrangement of colours, 
or a rough footway where they may very 
well break their shins. It is in virtue of 
his own desires and curiosities that any man 
continues to exist with even patience, that 
he is charmed by the look of things and 
people, and that he wakens every morning 
with a renewed appetite for work and plea- 
sure. Desire and curiosity are the two eyes 
through which he sees the world in the most 

1 74 El Dorado 

enchanted colours : it is they that make 
women beautiful or fossils interesting : and 
the man may squander his estate and come 
to beggary, but if he keeps these two amulets 
he is still rich in the possibilities of pleasure. 
Suppose he could take one meal so compact 
and comprehensive that he should never 
hunger any more ; suppose him, at a glance, 
to take in all the features of the world and 
allay the desire for knowledge ; suppose him 
to do the like in any province of experience 
— would not that man be in a poor way for 
amusement ever after? 

One who goes touring on foot with a 
single volume in his knapsack reads with 
circumspection, pausing often to reflect, and 
often laying the book down to contemplate 
the landscape or the prints in the inn parlour ; 
for he fears to come to an end of his enter- 
tainment, and be left companionless on the 
last stages of his journey. A young fellow 
recently finished the works of Thomas Carlyle, 
winding up, if we remember aright, with the 
ten note-books upon Frederick the Great. 

El Dorado 1 7 5 

" What ! " cried the young fellow, in conster- 
nation, " is there no more Carlyle ? Am I 
left to the daily papers ?" A more celebrated 
instance is that of Alexander, who wept 
bitterly because he had no more worlds to 
subdue. And when Gibbon had finished the 
Decline and Fall, he had only a few moments 
of joy ; and it was with a " sober melancholy" 
that he parted from his labours. 

Happily we all shoot at the moon with 
ineffectual arrows ; our hopes are set on 
inaccessible El Dorado ; we come to an end 
of nothing here below. Interests are only 
plucked up to sow themselves again, like 
mustard. You would think, when the child 
was born, there would be an end to trouble ; 
and yet it is only the beginning of fresh 
anxieties ; and when you have seen it through 
its teething and its education, and at last its 
marriage, alas ! it is only to have new fears, 
new quivering sensibilities, with every day ; 
and the health of your children's children 
grows as touching a concern as that of your 
own. Again, when you have married your 

1/6 El Dorado 

wife, you would think you were got upon a 
hilltop, and might begin to go downward by 
an easy slope. But you have only ended 
courting to begin marriage. Falling in love 
and winning love are often difficult tasks to 
overbearing and rebellious spirits ; but to 
keep in love is also a business of some im- 
portance, to which both man and wife must 
bring kindness and goodwill. The true 
love story commences at the altar, when 
there lies before the married pair a most 
beautiful contest of wisdom and generosity, 
and a life-long struggle towards an unattain- 
able ideal. Unattainable? Ay, surely un- 
attainable, from the very fact that they are 
two instead of one. 

" Of making books there is no end," com- 
plained the Preacher ; and did not perceive 
how highly he was praising letters as an 
occupation. There is no end, indeed, to 
making books or experiments, or to travel, 
or to gathering wealth. Problem gives rise 
to problem. We may study for ever, and 
we are never as learned as we would. We 

El Dorado 17 7 

have never made a statue worthy of our 
dreams. And when we have discovered a 
continent, or crossed a chain of mountains, it 
is only to find another ocean or another 
plain upon the further side. In the infinite 
universe there is room for our swiftest dili- 
gence and to spare. It is not like the works 
of Carlyle, which can be read to an end. 
Even in a corner of it, in a private park, or 
in the neighbourhood of a single hamlet, 
the weather and the seasons keep so deftly 
changing that although we walk there for a 
lifetime there will be always something new 
to startle and delight us. 

There is only one wish realisable on the 
earth ; only one thing that can be perfectly 
attained : Death. And from a variety of 
circumstances we have no one to tell us 
whether it be worth attaining. 

A strange picture we make on our way to 
our chimaeras, ceaselessly marching, grudging 
ourselves the time for rest ; indefatigable, 
adventurous pioneers. It is true that we 
shall never reach the goal ; it is even more 

1/8 El Dorado 

than probable that there is no such place ; 
and if we lived for centuries and were en- 
dowed with the powers of a god, we should 
find ourselves not much nearer what we 
wanted at the end. O toiling hands oi 
mortals ! O unwearied feet, travelling ye 
know not whither ! Soon, soon, it seems to 
you, you must come forth on some conspicu- 
ous hilltop, and but a little way further, 
against the setting sun, descry the spires of 
El Dorado. Little do ye know your own 
blessedness ; for to travel hopefully is a better 
thing than to arrive, and the true success is 
to labour. 


" Whether it be wise in men to do such actions or no, I 
am sure it is so in States to honour them." — Sir William 

'T^HERE is one story of the wars of Rome 
which I have always very much envied 
for England. Germanicus was going down 
at the head of the legions into a dangerous 
river — on the opposite bank the woods were 
full of Germans — when there flew out seven 
great eagles which seemed to marshal the 
Romans on their way ; they did not pause 
or waver, but disappeared into the forest 
where the enemy lay concealed. " Forward !" 
cried Germanicus, with a fine rhetorical 
inspiration, " Forward ! and follow the Roman 
birds." It would be a very heavy spirit that 
did not give a leap at such a signal, and a 

i8o The English Admirals 

very timorous one that continued to have 
any doubt of success. To appropriate the 
eagles as fellow-countrymen was to make 
imaginary allies of the forces of nature ; the 
Roman Empire and its military fortunes, and 
along with these the prospects of those 
individual Roman legionaries now fording a 
river in Germany, looked altogether greater 
and more hopeful. It is a kind of illusion 
easy to produce. A particular shape of 
cloud, the appearance of a particular star, 
the holiday of some particular saint, anything 
in short to remind the combatants of patriotic 
legends or old successes, may be enough to 
change the issue of a pitched battle ; for it 
gives to the one party a feeling that Right 
and the larger interests are with them. 

If an Englishman wishes to have such a 
feeling, it must be about the sea. The lion 
is nothing to us ; he has not been taken to 
the hearts of the people, and naturalised as 
an English emblem. We know right well 
that a lion would fall foul of us as grimly as 
he would of a Frenchman or a Moldavian 

The English Admirals i8i 

Jew, and we do not carry him before us in 
the smoke of battle. But the sea is our 
approach and bulwark ; it has been the scene 
of our greatest triumphs and dangers ; and 
we are accustomed in lyrical strains to claim 
it as our own. The prostrating experiences 
of foreigners between Calais and Dover have 
always an agreeable side to English prepos- 
sessions. A man from Bedfordshire, who 
does not know one end of the ship from the 
other until she begins to move, swaggers 
among such persons with a sense of hereditary 
nautical experience. To suppose yourself 
endowed with natural parts for the sea 
because you are the countryman of Blake 
and mighty Nelson, is perhaps just as un- 
warrantable as to imagine Scotch extraction 
a sufficient guarantee that you will look well 
in a kilt. But the feeling is there, and seated 
beyond the reach of argument. We should 
consider ourselves unworthy of our descent if 
we did not share the arrogance of our pro- 
genitors, and please ourselves with the pre- 
tension that the sea is English. Even where 

1 82 The English Admirals 

it is looked upon by the guns and battlements 
of another nation we regard it as a kind of 
English cemetery, where the bones of our 
seafaring fathers take their rest until the last 
trumpet ; for I suppose no other nation has 
lost as many ships, or sent as many brave 
fellows to the bottom. 

There is nowhere such a background for 
heroism as the noble, terrifying, and pictur- 
esque conditions of some of our sea fights. 
Hawke's battle in the tempest, and Aboukir 
at the moment when the French Admiral 
blew up, reach the limit of what is imposing 
to the imagination. And our naval annals 
owe some of their interest to the fantastic 
and beautiful appearance of old warships 
and the romance that invests the sea and 
everything sea-going in the eyes of English 
lads on a half-holiday at the coast. Nay, 
and what we know of the misery between 
decks enhances the bravery of what was done 
by giving it something for contrast. We 
like to know that these bold and honest 
fellows contrived to live, and to keep bold 

The English Admirals 183 

and honest, among absurd and vile surround- 
ings. No reader can forget the description 
of the Thunder in Roderick Random : the 
disorderly tyranny ; the cruelty and dirt of 
officers and men ; deck after deck, each with 
some new object of offence ; the hospital, 
where the hammocks were huddled together 
with but fourteen inches space for each ; the 
cockpit, far under water, where, "in an in- 
tolerable stench," the spectacled steward kept 
the accounts of the different messes ; and 
the canvas enclosure, six feet square, in which 
Morgan made flip and salmagundi, smoked 
his pipe, sang his Welsh songs, and swore 
his queer Welsh imprecations. There are 
portions of this business on board the Thunder 
over which the reader passes lightly and 
hurriedly, like a traveller in a malarious 
country. It is easy enough to understand 
the opinion of Dr. Johnson : " Why, sir," he 
said, "no man will be a sailor who has 
contrivance enough to get himself into a jail." 
You would fancy any one's spirit would die 
out under such an accumulation of darkness, 

1 84 The English Admirals 

noisomeness, and injustice, above all when he 
had not come there of his own free will, but 
under the cutlasses and bludgeons of the 
press-gang. But perhaps a watch on deck 
in the sharp sea air put a man on his mettle 
again ; a battle must have been a capital 
relief ; and prize-money, bloodily earned and 
grossly squandered, opened the doors of the 
prison for a twinkling. Somehow or other, 
at least, this worst of possible lives could not 
overlie the spirit and gaiety of our sailors ; 
they did their duty as though they had some 
interest in the fortune of that country which 
so cruelly oppressed them, they served their 
guns merrily when it came to fighting, and 
they had the readiest ear for a bold, honour- 
able sentiment, of any class of men the world 
ever produced. 

Most men of high destinies have high- 
sounding names. Pym and Habakkuk may 
do pretty well, but they must not think to 
cope with the Cromwells and Isaiahs. And 
you could not find a better case in point 
than that of the English Admirals. Drake 

The English Admirals 185 

and Rooke and Hawke are picked names 
for men of execution. Frobisher, Rodney, 
Boscawen, Foul-Weather, Jack Byron, are all 
good to catch the eye in a page of a naval 
history. Cloudesley Shovel is a mouthful of 
quaint and sounding syllables. Benbow has 
a bulldog quality that suits the man's char- 
acter, and it takes us back to those English 
archers who were his true comrades for 
plainness, tenacity, and pluck. Raleigh is 
spirited and martial, and signifies an act of 
bold conduct in the field. It is impossible 
to judge of Blake or Nelson, no names 
current among men being worthy of such 
heroes. But still it is odd enough, and very 
appropriate in this connection, that the latter 
was greatly taken with his Sicilian title. 
" The signification, perhaps, pleased him," says 
Southey ; " Duke of Thunder was what in 
Dahomey would have been called a strong 
name ; it was to a sailor's taste, and certainly 
to no man could it be more applicable." 
Admiral in itself is one of the most satis- 
factory of distinctions ; it has a noble sound 

1 86 The English Admirals 

and a very proud history ; and Columbus 
thought so highly of it, that he enjoined his 
heirs to sign themselves by that title as long 
as the house should last. 

But it is the spirit of the men, and not 
their names, that I wish to speak about in 
this paper. That spirit is truly English ; 
they, and not Tennyson's cotton-spinners or 
Mr. D'Arcy Thompson's Abstract Bagman, 
are the true and typical Englishmen. There 
may be more head of bagmen in the country, 
but human beings are reckoned by number 
only in political constitutions. And the 
Admirals are typical in the full force of the 
word. They are splendid examples of virtue, 
indeed, but of a virtue in which most English- 
men can claim a moderate share ; and what 
we admire in their lives is a sort of apotheosis 
of ourselves. Almost everybody in our land, 
except humanitarians and a few persons 
whose youth has been depressed by excep- 
tionally aesthetic surroundings, can'understand 
and sympathise with an Admiral or a prize- 
fighter. I do not wish to bracket Benbow 

The English Admirals 187 

and Tom Cribb ; but, depend upon it, they 
are practically bracketed for admiration in 
the minds of many frequenters of ale-houses. 
If you told them about Germanicus and the 
eagles, or Regulus going back to Carthage, 
they would very likely fall asleep ; but tell 
them about Harry Pearce and Jem Belcher, 
or about Nelson and the Nile, and they put 
down their pipes to listen. I have by me a 
copy of Boxiana, on the fly-leaves of which 
a youthful member of the fancy kept a 
chronicle of remarkable events and an obitu- 
ary of great men. Here we find piously 
chronicled the demise of jockeys, watermen, 
and pugilists — Johnny Moore, of the Liver- 
pool Prize Ring ; Tom Spring, aged fifty- 
six ; " Pierce Egan, senior, writer of Boxiana 
and other sporting works " — and among all 
these, the Duke of Wellington ! If Benbow 
had lived in the time of this annalist, do you 
suppose his name would not have been added 
to the glorious roll ? In short, we do not 
all feel warmly towards Wesley or Laud, we 
cannot all take pleasure in Paradise Lost ; 

1 88 The English Admirals 

but there are certain common sentiments and 
touches of nature by which the whole nation 
is made to feel kinship. A little while ago 
everybody, from Hazlitt and John Wilson 
down to the imbecile creature who scribbled 
his register on the fly-leaves of Boxiana, felt 
a more or less shamefaced satisfaction in the 
exploits of prize-fighters. And the exploits 
of the Admirals are popular to the same 
degree, and tell in all ranks of society. Their 
sayings and doings stir English blood like 
the sound of a trumpet ; and if the Indian 
Empire, the trade of London, and all the 
outward and visible ensigns of our greatness 
should pass away, we should still leave 
behind us a durable monument of what we 
were in these sayings and doings of the 
English Admirals. 

Duncan, lying off the Texel with his own 
flagship, the Venerable^ and only one other 
vessel, heard that the whole Dutch fleet was 
putting to sea. He told Captain Hotham 
to anchor alongside of him in the narrowest 
part of the channel, and fight his vessel till 

The English Admirals 1 89 

she sank. " I have taken the depth of the 
water," added he, " and when the Venerable 
goes down, my flag will still fly." And you 
observe this is no naked Viking in a pre- 
historic period ; but a Scotch member of 
Parliament, with a smattering of the classics, 
a telescope, a cocked hat of great size, and 
flannel underclothing. In the same spirit, 
Nelson went into Aboukir with six colours 
flying ; so that even if five were shot away, 
it should not be imagined he had struck. 
He too must needs wear his four stars outside 
his Admiral's frock, to be a butt for sharp- 
shooters. " In honour I gained them," he 
said to objectors, adding with sublime illogi- 
cality, " in honour I will die with them." 
Captain Douglas of the Royal Oak, when 
the Dutch fired his vessel in the Thames, 
sent his men ashore, but was burned along 
with her himself rather than desert his post 
without orders. Just then, perhaps the 
Merry Monarch was chasing a moth round 
the supper-table with the ladies of his court. 
When Raleigh sailed into Cadiz, and all the 

1 90 The English Admirals 

forts and ships opened fire on him at once, 
he scorned to shoot a gun, and made answer 
with a flourish of insulting trumpets. I like 
this bravado better than the wisest dispositions 
to insure victory ; it comes from the heart 
and goes to it. God has made nobler heroes, 
but he never made a finer gentleman than 
Walter Raleigh. And as our Admirals were 
full of heroic superstitions, and had a strutting 
and vainglorious style of fight, so they dis- 
covered a startling eagerness for battle, and 
courted war like a mistress. When the news 
came to Essex before Cadiz that the attack 
had been decided, he threw his hat into the 
sea. It is in this way that a schoolboy hears 
of a half-holiday ; but this was a bearded 
man of great possessions who had just been 
allowed to risk his life. Benbow could not 
lie still in his bunk after he had lost .his leg ; 
he must be on deck in a basket to direct 
and animate the fight. I said they loved 
war like a mistress ; yet I thin'k there are 
not many mistresses we should continue to 
woo under similar circumstances. Trowbridge 

The English Admirals 191 

went ashore with the Culloden, and was able 
to take no part in the battle of the Nile. 
" The merits of that ship and her gallant 
captain," wrote Nelson to the Admiralty, 
" are too well known to benefit by anything 
I could say. Her misfortune was great in 
getting aground, while her more fortimate 
companions were in the full tide of happiness^ 
This is a notable expression, and depicts the 
whole great-hearted, big-spoken stock of the 
English Admirals to a hair. It was to be 
" in the full tide of happiness " for Nelson to 
destroy five thousand five hundred and 
twenty-five of his fellow-creatures, and have 
his own scalp torn open by a piece of lang- 
ridge shot. Hear him again at Copenhagen : 
" A shot through the mainmast knocked the 
splinters about; and he observed to one of 
his officers with a smile, ' It is warm work, 
and this may be the last to any of us at any 
moment ;' and then, stopping short at the 
gangway, added, with emotion, '^ But^ mark 
you — / would not be elsewhere for thousands y^ 
I must tell one more story, which has 

192 The English Admirals 

lately been made familiar to us all, and that 
in one of the noblest ballads in the English 
language. I had written my tame prose 
abstract, I shall beg the reader to (believe, 
when I had no notion that the sacred bard 
designed an immortality for Greenville. Sir 
Richard Greenville was Vice -Admiral to 
Lord Thomas Howard, and lay off the 
Azores with the English squadron in 1591. 
He was a noted tyrant to his crew : a dark, 
bullying fellow apparently ; and it is related 
of him that he would chew and swallow 
wineglasses, by way of convivial levity, till 
the blood ran out of his mouth. When the 
Spanish fleet of fifty sail came within sight 
of the English, his ship, the Revenge, was the 
last to weigh anchor, and was so far circum- 
vented by the Spaniards, that there were but 
two courses open — either to turn her back 
upon the enemy or sail through one of his 
squadrons. The first alternative Greenville 
dismissed as dishonourable to' himself, his 
country, and her Majesty's ship. Accordingly, 
he chose the latter, and steered into the 

The English Admirals 193 

Spanish armament. Several vessels he forced 
to luff and fall under his lee ; until, about 
three o'clock of the afternoon, a great ship of 
three decks of ordnance took the wind out of 
his sails, and immediately boarded. Thence- 
forward, and all night long, the Revenge held 
her own single-handed against the Spaniards. 
As one ship was beaten off, another took its 
place. She endured, according to Raleigh's 
computation, " eight hundred shot of great 
artillery, besides many assaults and entries." 
By morning the powder was spent, the pikes 
all broken, not a stick was standing, "nothing 
left overhead either for flight or defence ;" 
six feet of water in the hold ; almost all the 
men hurt ; and Greenville himself in a dying 
condition. To bring them to this pass, a 
fleet of fifty sail had been mauling them for 
fifteen hours, the Admiral of the Htdks and 
the Ascension of Seville had both gone down 
alongside, and two other vessels had taken 
refuge on shore in a sinking state. In 
Hawke's words, they had "taken a great 
deal of drubbing." The captain and crew 

194 The English Admirals 

thought they had done about enough ; but 
Greenville was not of this opinion ; he gave 
orders to the master gunner, whom he knew 
to be a fellow after his own stamp, to scuttle 
the Revenge where she lay. The others, who 
were not mortally wounded like the Admiral, 
interfered with some decision, locked the 
master gunner in his cabin, after having 
deprived him of his sword, for he manifested 
an intention to kill himself if he were not to 
sink the ship ; and sent to the Spaniards to 
demand terms. These were granted. The 
second or third day after, Greenville died of 
his wounds aboard the Spanish flagship, 
leaving his contempt upon the " traitors and 
dogs " who had not chosen to do as he did, 
and engage fifty vessels, well found and fully 
manned, with six inferior craft ravaged by 
sickness and short of stores. He at least, he 
said, had done his duty as he was bound to 
do, and looked for everlasting fame. 

Some one said to me the other day that 
they considered this story to be of a pestilent 
example. I am not inclined to imagine we 

The English Admirals 195 

shall ever be put into any practical difficulty 
from a superfluity of Greenvilles. And 
besides, I demur to the opinion. The worth of 
such actions is not a thing to be decided in 
a quaver of sensibility or a flush of righteous 
commonsense. The man who wished to 
make the ballads of his country, coveted a 
small matter compared to what Richard 
Greenville accomplished. I wonder how 
many people have been inspired by this mad 
story, and how many battles have been 
actually won for England in the spirit thus 
engendered. It is only with a measure of 
habitual foolhardiness that you can be sure, 
in the common run of men, of courage on a 
reasonable occasion. An army or a fleet, if 
it is not led by quixotic fancies, will not be 
led far by terror of the Provost Marshal. 
Even German warfare, in addition to maps 
and telegraphs, is not above employing the 
Wacht am Rhein. Nor is it only in the pro- 
fession of arms that such stories may do good 
to a man. In this desperate and gleeful 
fighting, whether it is Greenville or Benbow, 

196 The English Admirals 

Hawke or Nelson, who flies his colours in 
the ship, we see men brought to the test and 
giving proof of what we call heroic feeling. 
Prosperous humanitarians tell me, in my club 
smoking-room, that they are a prey to pro- 
digious heroic feelings, and that it costs them 
more nobility of soul to do nothing in parti- 
cular, than would carry on all the wars, by 
sea or land, of bellicose humanity. It may 
very well be so, and yet not touch the point 
in question. For what I desire is to see 
some of this nobility brought face to face 
with me in an inspiriting achievement. A 
man may talk smoothly over a cigar in my 
club smoking-room from now to the Day of 
Judgment, without adding anything to man- 
kind's treasury of illustrious and encouraging 
examples. It is not over the virtues of a 
curate-and-tea-party novel, that people are 
abashed into high resolutions. It may be 
because their hearts are crass, but to stir 
them properly they must have men entering 
into glory with some pomp and circumstance. 
And that is why these stories of our sea- 

The English Admirals 197 

captains, printed, so to speak, in capitals, and 
full of bracing moral influence, are more 
valuable to England than any material bene- 
fit in all the books of political economy be- 
tween Westminster and Birmingham. Green- 
ville chewing wineglasses at table makes no 
very pleasant figure, any more than a thou- 
sand other artists when they are viewed in 
the body, or met in private life ; but his 
work of art, his finished tragedy, is an eloquent 
performance ; and I contend it ought not 
only to enliven men of the sword as they go 
into battle, but send back merchant clerks 
with more heart and spirit to their book- 
keeping by double entry. 

There is another question which seems 
bound up in this ; and that is Temple's 
problem : whether it was wise of Douglas to 
burn with the Royal Oak ? and by implica- 
tion, what it was that made him do so? 
Many will tell you it was the desire of fame. 

" To what do Caesar and Alexander owe 
the infinite grandeur of their renown, but to 
fortune ? How many men has she extin- 

198 The English Admirals 

guished in the beginning of their progress, 
of whom we have no knowledge ; who 
brought as much courage to the work as 
they, if their adverse hap had not cut them 
off in the first sally of their arms ? Amongst 
so many and so great dangers, I do not 
remember to have anywhere read that Caesar 
was ever wounded ; a thousand have fallen 
in less dangers than the least of these he 
went through. A great many brave actions 
must be expected to be performed without 
witness, for one that comes to some notice. 
A man is not always at the top of a breach, 
or at the head of an army in the sight of 
his general, as upon a platform. He is 
often surprised between the hedge and the 
ditch ; he must run the hazard of his life 
against a henroost ; he must dislodge four 
rascally musketeers out of a barn ; he must 
prick out single from his party, as necessity 
arises, and meet adventures alone." 

Thus far Montaigne, in a characteristic 
essay on Glory. Where death is certain, as 
in the cases of Douglas or Greenville, it 

The English Admirals 199 

seems all one from a personal point of view. 
The man who lost his life against a henroost, 
is in the same pickle with him who lost his 
life against a fortified place of the first order. 
Whether he has missed a peerage or only 
the corporal's stripes, it is all one if he has 
missed them and is quietly in the grave. 
It was by a hazard that we learned the 
conduct of the four marines of the Wager, 
There was no room for these brave fellows in 
the boat, and they were left behind upon the 
island to a certain death. They were soldiers, 
they said, and knew well enough it was their 
business to die ; and as their comrades 
pulled away, they stood upon the beach, 
gave three cheers, and cried "God bless the 
king !" Now, one or two of those who were 
in the boat escaped, against all likelihood, 
to tell the story. That was a great thing 
for us ; but surely it cannot, by any possible 
twisting of human speech, be construed into 
anything great for the marines. You may 
suppose, if you like, that they died hoping 
their behaviour would not be forgotten ; or 

200 The English Admirals 

you may suppose they thought nothing on 
the subject, which is much more Hkely. 
What can be the signification of the word 
" fame " to a private of marines, who cannot 
read and knows nothing of past history 
beyond the reminiscences of his grandmother? 
But whichever supposition you make, the 
fact is unchanged. They died while the ques- 
tion still hung in the balance ; and I suppose 
their bones were already white, before the 
winds and the waves and the humour of 
Indian chiefs and Spanish governors had 
decided whether they were to be unknown 
and useless martyrs or honoured heroes. 
Indeed, I believe this is the lesson : if it is 
for fame that men do brave actions, they 
are only silly fellows after all. 

It is at best but a pettifogging, pickthank 
business to decompose actions into little 
personal motives, and explain heroism away. 
The Abstract Bagman will grow like an 
Admiral at heart, not by ungrateful carping, 
but in a heat of admiration. But there is 
another theory of the personal motive in 

The English Admirals 201 

these fine sayings and doings, which I believe 
to be true and wholesome. People usually 
do things, and suffer martyrdoms, because 
they have an inclination that way. The 
best artist is not the man who fixes his eye 
on posterity, but the one who loves the 
practice of his art. And instead of having 
a taste for being successful merchants and 
retiring at thirty, some people have a taste 
for high and what we call heroic forms of 
excitement. If the Admirals courted war 
like a mistress ; if, as the drum beat to 
quarters, the sailors came gaily out of the 
forecastle, — it is because a fight is a period 
of multiplied and intense experiences, and, 
by Nelson's computation, worth " thousands " 
to any one who has a heart under his jacket. 
If the marines of the Wager gave three 
cheers and cried " God bless the king," it 
was because they liked to do things nobly 
for their own satisfaction. They were giving 
their lives, there was no help for that ; and 
they made it a point of self-respect to give 
them handsomely. And there were never 

202 The English Admirals 

four happier marines in God's world than 
these four at that moment. If it was worth 
thousands to be at the Baltic, I wish a 
Benthamite arithmetician would calculate 
how much it was worth to be one of these 
four marines ; or how much their story is 
worth to each of us who read it. And mark 
you, undemonstrative men would have spoiled 
the situation. The finest action is the better 
for a piece of purple. If the soldiers of the 
Birkenhead had not gone down in line, or 
these marines of the Wager had walked 
away simply into the island, like plenty of 
other brave fellows in the like circumstances, 
my Benthamite arithmetician would assign a 
far lower value to the two stories. We have 
to desire a grand air in our heroes ; and 
such a knowledge of the human stage as 
shall make them put the dots on their own i's, 
and leave us in no suspense as to when they 
mean to be heroic. And hence, we should 
congratulate ourselves upon the fact that 
our Admirals were not only great-hearted 
but big-spoken. 

The English Admirals 203 

The heroes themselves say, as often as not, 
that fame is their object ; but I do not think 
that is much to the purpose. People generally 
say what they have been taught to say ; 
that was the catchword they were given in 
youth to express the aims of their way of 
life ; and men who are gaining great battles 
are not likely to take much trouble in 
reviewing their sentiments and the words 
in which they were told to express them. 
Almost every person, if you will believe him- 
self, holds a quite different theory of life 
from the one on which he is patently acting. 
And the fact is, fame may be a forethought 
and an afterthought, but it is too abstract 
an idea to move people greatly in moments 
of swift and momentous decision. It is from 
something more immediate, some determina- 
tion of blood to the head, some trick of the 
fancy, that the breach is stormed or the 
bold word spoken. I am sure a fellow 
shooting an ugly weir in a canoe has exactly 
as much thought about fame as most com- 
manders going into battle ; and yet the action, 

204 ^^^ English Admirals 

fall out how it will, is not one of those the 
muse delights to celebrate. Indeed it is 
difficult to see why the fellow does a thing 
so nameless and yet so formidable to look 
at, unless on the theory that he likes it. 
I suspect that is why ; and I suspect it is 
at least ten per cent of why Lord Beacons- 
field and Mr. Gladstone have debated so 
much in the House of Commons, and why 
Burnaby rode to Khiva the other day, and 
why the Admirals courted war like a 


T^HROUGH the initiative of a prominent 
citizen, Edinburgh has been in possession, 
for some autumn weeks, of a gallery of 
paintings of singular merit and interest. 
They were exposed in the apartments of the 
Scotch Academy ; and filled those who are 
accustomed to visit the annual spring exhibi- 
tion, with astonishment and a sense of in- 
congruity. Instead of the too common purple 
sunsets, and pea-green fields, and distances 
executed in putty and hog's lard, he beheld, 
looking down upon him from the walls of 
room after room, a whole army of wise, grave, 
humorous, capable, or beautiful countenances, 
painted simply and strongly by a man of 
genuine instinct. It was a complete act of 

2o6 Some Portraits by Raeburn 

the Human Drawing-Room Comedy. Lords 
and ladies, soldiers and doctors, hanging 
judges, and heretical divines, a whole genera- 
tion of good society was resuscitated ; and 
the Scotchman of to-day walked about among 
the Scotchmen of two generations ago. The 
moment was well chosen, neither too late 
nor too early. The people who sat for these 
pictures are not yet ancestors, they are still 
relations. They are not yet altogether a 
part of the dusty past, but occupy a middle 
distance within cry of our affections. The 
little child who looks wonderingly on his 
grandfather's watch in the picture, is now 
the veteran Sheriff emeritus of Perth. And 
I hear a story of a lady who returned the 
other day to Edinburgh, after an absence of 
sixty years : " I could see none of my old 
friends," she said, "until I went into the 
Raeburn Gallery, and found them all there." 
It would be difficult to say whether the 
collection was more interesting on the score of 
unity or diversity. Where the portraits were 
all of the same period, almost all of the same 

Some Portraits by Raeburn 207 

race, and all from the same brush, there 
could not fail to be many points of similarity. 
And yet the similarity of the handling seems 
to throw into more vigorous relief those 
personal distinctions which Raeburn was so 
quick to seize. He was a born painter of 
portraits. He looked people shrewdly be- 
tween the eyes, surprised their manners in 
their face, and had possessed himself of what 
was essential in their character before they 
had been many minutes in his studio. What 
he was so swift to perceive, he conveyed to 
the canvas almost in the moment of concep- 
tion. He had never any difficulty, he said, 
about either hands or faces. About draperies 
or light or composition, he might see room 
for hesitation or afterthought. But a face 
or a hand was something plain and legible. 
There were no two ways about it, any more 
than about the person's name. And so each 
of his portraits are not only (in Doctor 
Johnson's phrase, aptly quoted on the cata- 
logue) "a piece of history," but a piece of 
biography into the bargain. It is devoutly 

2o8 Some Portraits by Raeburn 

to be wished that all biography were equally 
amusing, and carried its own credentials 
equally upon its face. These portraits are 
racier than many anecdotes, and more com- 
plete than many a volume of sententious 
memoirs. You can see whether you get a 
stronger and clearer idea of Robertson the 
historian from Raeburn's palette or Dugald 
Stewart's woolly and evasive periods. And 
then the portraits are both signed and 
countersigned. For you have, first, the 
authority of the artist, whom you recognise 
as no mean critic of the looks and manners 
of men ; and next you have the tacit aquies- 
cence of the subject, who sits looking out 
upon you with inimitable innocence, and 
apparently under the impression that he is 
in a room by himself For Raeburn could 
plunge at once through all the constraint 
and embarrassment of the sitter, and present 
the face, clear, open, and intelligent as at the 
most disengaged moments. This is best 
seen in portraits where the sitter is repre- 
sented in some appropriate action : Neil 

> Some Portraits by Raeburn 209 

Gow with his fiddle, Doctor Spens shooting 
an arrow, or Lord Bannatyne hearing a 
cause. Above all, from this point of view, 
the portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Lyon is 
notable. A strange enough young man, 
pink, fat about the lower part of the face, 
with a lean forehead, a narrow nose and a fine 
nostril, sits with a drawing-board upon his 
knees. He has just paused to render him- 
self account of some difficulty, to disentangle 
some complication of line or compare neigh- 
bouring values. And there, without any 
perceptible wrinkling, you have rendered for 
you exactly the fixed look in the eyes, and 
the unconscious compression of the mouth, 
that befit and signify an effort of the kind. 
The whole pose, the whole expression, is 
absolutely direct and simple. You are ready 
to take your oath to it that Colonel Lyon 
had no idea he was sitting for his picture, 
and thought of nothing in the world besides 
his own occupation of the moment. 

Although the collection did not embrace, 
I understand, nearly the whole of Raeburn's 

210 Some Portraits by Raeburn 

works, it was too large not to contain some 
that were indifferent, whether as works of art 
or as portraits. Certainly the standard was 
remarkably high, and was wonderfully main- 
tained, but there were one or two pictures 
that might have been almost as well away — 
one or two that seemed wanting in salt, and 
some that you can only hope were not suc- 
cessful likenesses. Neither of the portraits 
of Sir Walter Scott, for instance, were very 
agreeable to look upon. You do not care to 
think that Scott looked quite so rustic and 
puffy. And where is that peaked forehead 
which, according to all written accounts and 
many portraits, was the distinguishing char- 
acteristic of his face ? Again, in spite of his 
own satisfaction and in spite of Dr. John 
Brown, I cannot consider that Raeburn was 
very happy in hands. Without doubt, he 
could paint one if he had taken the trouble 
to study it ; but it was by no means always 
that he gave himself the trouble. Looking 
round one of these rooms hung about with 
his portraits, you were struck with the array 

Some Portraits by Raeburn 2 1 1 

of expressive faces, as compared with what 
you may have seen in looking round a room 
full of living people. But it was not so 
with the hands. The portraits differed from 
each other in face perhaps ten times as much 
as they differed by the hand ; whereas with 
living people the two go pretty much together ; 
and where one is remarkable, the other will 
almost certainly not be commonplace. 

One interesting portrait was that of Duncan 
of Camperdown. He stands in uniform be- 
side a table, his feet slightly straddled with 
the balance of an old sailor, his hand poised 
upon a chart by the finger tips. The mouth 
is pursed, the nostril spread and drawn up, 
the eyebrows very highly arched. The 
cheeks lie along the jaw in folds of iron, and 
have the redness that comes from much 
exposure to salt sea winds. From the whole 
figure, attitude and countenance,'there breathes 
something precise and decisive, something 
alert, wiry, and strong. You can understand, 
from the look of him, that sense, not so much 
of humour, as of what is grimmest and driest 

2 1 2 Some Portraits by Raebum 

in pleasantry, which inspired his address 
before the fight at Camperdown. He had 
just overtaken the Dutch fleet under Admiral 
de Winter. " Gentlemen," says he, " you see 
a severe winter approaching ; I have only to 
advise you to keep up a good fire." Some- 
what of this same spirit of adamantine 
drollery must have supported him in the 
days of the mutiny at the Nore, when he lay 
off the Texel with his own flagship, the 
Venerable, and only one other vessel, and 
kept up active signals, as though he had a 
powerful fleet in the ofifing, to intimidate the 

Another portrait which irresistibly attracted 
the eye, was the half-length of Robert 
M'Queen, of Braxfield, Lord Justice- Clerk. 
If I know gusto in painting when I see it, 
this canvas was painted with rare enjoyment. 
The tart, rosy, humorous look of the man, 
his nose like a cudgel, his face resting squarely 
on the jowl, has been caught and perpetuated 
with something that looks like brotherly love. 
A peculiarly subtle expression haunts the 

Some Portraits by Raeburn 2 1 3 

lower part, sensual and incredulous, like that 
of a man tasting good Bordeaux with half a 
fancy it has been somewhat too long uncorked. 
From under the pendulous eyelids of old age, 
the eyes look out with a half-youthful, half- 
frosty twinkle. Hands, with no pretence to 
distinction, are folded on the judge's stomach. 
So sympathetically is the character conceived 
by the portrait painter, that it is hardly pos- 
sible to avoid some movement of sympathy 
on the part of the spectator. And sympathy 
is a thing to be encouraged, apart from 
humane considerations, because it supplies 
us with the materials for wisdom. It is prob- 
ably more instructive to entertain a sneaking 
kindness for any unpopular person, and, 
among the rest, for Lord Braxfield, than to 
give way to perfect raptures of moral indig- 
nation against his abstract vices. He was 
the last judge on the Scotch bench to employ 
the pure Scotch idiom. His opinions, thus 
given in Doric, and conceived in a lively, 
rugged, conversational style, were full of 
point and authority. Out of the bar, or off 

214 Some Portraits by Raeburn 

the bench, he was a convivial man, a lover of 
wine, and one who " shone peculiarly " at 
tavern meetings. He has left behind him 
an unrivalled reputation for rough and cruel 
speech ; and to this day his name smacks of 
the gallows. It was he who presided at the 
trials of Muir and Skirving in 1793 and 
1 794 ; and his appearance on these occa- 
sions was scarcely cut to the pattern of 
to-day. His summing up on Muir began 
thus — the reader must supply for himself 
" the growling, blacksmith's voice " and the 
broad Scotch accent : " Now this is the ques- 
tion for consideration — Is the panel guilty of 
sedition, or is he not ? Now, before this can 
be answered, two things must be attended to 
that require no proof : First, that the British 
constitution is the best that ever was since 
the creation of the world, and it is not possible 
to make it better." It's a pretty fair start, 
is it not, for a political trial ? A little later, 
he has occasion to refer to the relations of 
Muir with " those wretches," the French. " I 
never liked the French all my days," said his 

Some Portraits by Raeburn 215 

lordship, " but now I hate them." And yet 
a little further on : "A government in any 
country should be like a corporation ; and 
in this country it is made up of the landed 
interest, which alone has a right to be repre- 
sented. As for the rabble who have nothing 
but personal property, what hold has the 
nation of them ? They may pack up their 
property on their backs, and leave the country 
in the twinkling of an eye." After having 
made profession of sentiments so cynically 
anti-popular as these, when the trials were at 
an end, which was generally about midnight, 
Braxfield would walk home to his house in 
George Square with no better escort than an 
easy conscience. I think I see him getting 
his cloak about his shoulders, and, with per- 
haps a lantern in one hand, steering his way 
along the streets in the mirk January night. 
It might have been that very day that Skirv- 
ing had defied him in these words : " It is 
altogether unavailing for your lordship to 
menace me ; for I have long learned to fear 
not the face of man ;" and I can fancy, as 

2 1 6 Some Portraits by Raeburn 

Braxfield reflected on the number of what he 
called Grumbletonians in Edinburgh, and of 
how many of them must bear special malice 
against so upright and inflexible a judge, 
nay, and might at that very moment be 
lurking in the mouth of a dark close with 
hostile intent — I can fancy that he indulged 
in a sour smile, as he reflected that he also 
was not especially afraid of men's faces or 
men's fists, and had hitherto found no occa- 
sion to embody this insensibility in heroic 
words. For if he was an inhumane old 
gentleman (and I am afraid it is a fact that 
he was inhumane), he was also perfectly 
intrepid. You may look into the queer face 
of that portrait for as long as you will, but 
you will not see any hole or corner for 
timidity to enter in. 

Indeed, there would be no end to this 
paper if I were even to name half of the 
portraits that were remarkable for their exe- 
cution, or interesting by association. There 
was one picture of Mr. Wardrop, of Torbane 
Hill, which you might palm off upon most 

Some Portraits by Raeburn 2 1 7 

laymen as a Rembrandt ; and close by, you 
saw the white head of John Clerk, of Eldin, 
that country gentleman who, playing with 
pieces of cork on his own dining-table, in- 
vented modern naval warfare. There was 
that portrait of Neil Gow, to sit for which 
the old fiddler walked daily through the 
streets of Edinburgh arm in arm with the 
Duke of Athole. There was good Harry 
Erskine, with his satirical nose and upper lip, 
and his mouth just open for a witticism to 
pop out ; Hutton the geologist, in quakerish 
raiment, and looking altogether trim and 
narrow, and as if he cared more about fossils 
than young ladies ; full-blown John Robieson, 
in hyperbolical red dressing-gown, and, every 
inch of him, a fine old man of the world ; 
Constable the publisher, upright beside a 
table, and bearing a corporation with com- 
mercial dignity ; Lord Bannatyne hearing a 
cause, if ever anybody heard a cause since 
the world began ; Lord Newton just awakened 
from clandestine slumber on the bench ; and 
the second President Dundas, with every 

2 1 8 Some Portraits by Raeburn 

feature so fat that he reminds you, in his 
wig, of some droll old court officer in an 
illustrated nursery story-book, and yet all 
these fat features instinct with meaning, the 
fat lips curved and compressed, the nose 
combining somehow the dignity of a beak 
with the good nature of a bottle, and the 
very double chin with an air of intelligence 
and insight. And all these portraits are so 
pat and telling, and look at you so spiritedly 
from the walls, that, compared with the sort 
of living people one sees about the streets, 
they are as bright new sovereigns to fishy 
and obliterated sixpences. Some disparaging 
thoughts upon our own generation could 
hardly fail to present themselves ; but it is 
perhaps only the sacer vates who is wanting ; 
and we also, painted by such a man as 
Carolus Duran, may look in holiday immor- 
tality upon our children and grandchildren. 

Raeburn's young women, to be frank, are 
by no means of the same order of merit. No 
one, of course, could be insensible to the 
presence of Miss Janet Suttie or Mrs. Camp- 

Some Portraits by Raeburn 2 1 9 

bell of Fossil When things are as pretty as 
that, criticism is out of season. But, on the 
whole, it is only with women of a certain age 
that he can be said to have succeeded, in at 
all the same sense as we say he succeeded 
with men. The younger women do not seem 
to be made of good flesh and blood. They 
are not painted in rich and unctuous touches. 
They are dry and diaphanous. And although 
young ladies in Great Britain are all that can 
be desired of them, I would fain hope they 
are not quite so much of that as Raeburn 
would have us believe. In all these pretty 
faces, you miss character, you miss fire, you 
miss that spice of the devil which is worth 
all the prettiness in the world ; and what is 
Voorst of all, you miss sex. His young ladies 
are not womanly to nearly the same degree 
as his men are masculine ; they are so in a 
negative sense ; in short, they are the typical 
young ladies of the male novelist. 

To say truth, either Raeburn was timid 
with young and pretty sitters ; or he had 
stupefied himself with sentimentalities ; or 

220 Some Portraits by Raeburn 

else (and here is about the truth of it) 
Raeburn and the rest of us labour under an 
obstinate blindness in one direction, and 
know very little more about women after 
all these centuries than Adam when he first 
saw Eve. This is all the more likely, because 
we are by no means so unintelligent in the 
matter of old women. There are some 
capital old women, it seems to me, in books 
written by men. And Raeburn has some, 
such as Mrs. Colin Campbell, of Park, or 
the anonymous " Old lady with a large cap," 
which are done in the same frank, perspica- 
cious spirit as the very best of his men. He 
could look into their eyes without trouble ; 
and he was not withheld, by any bashful 
sentimentalism, from recognising what he 
saw there and unsparingly putting it down 
upon the canvas. But where people cannot 
meet without some confusion and a good 
deal of involuntary humbug, and are occupied, 
for as long as they are together, with a very 
different vein of thought, there cannot be 
much room for intelligent study nor much. 

Some Portraits by Raeburn 221 

result in the shape of genuine comprehension. 
Even women, who understand men so well 
for practical purposes, do not know them 
well enough for the purposes of art. Take 
even the very best of their male creations, 
take Tito Melema, for instance, and you will 
find he has an equivocal air, and every now 
and again remembers he has a comb at the 
back of his head. Of course, no woman will 
believe this, and many men will be so very 
polite as to hum^our their incredulity. 


'T^HE regret we have for our childhood is 
not wholly justifiable : so much a man 
may lay down without fear of public ribaldry ; 
for although we shake our heads over the 
change, we are not unconscious of the mani- 
fold advantages of our new state. What we 
lose in generous impulse, we more than gain 
in the habit of generously watching others ; 
and the capacity to enjoy Shakespeare may 
balance a lost aptitude for playing at soldiers. 
Terror is gone out of our lives, moreover ; 
we no longer see the devil in the bed-curtains 
nor lie awake to listen to the wind. We 
go to school no more ; and if we have only 
exchanged one drudgery for another (which 
is by no means sure), we are set free for 
ever from the daily fear of chastisement. 

Child's Play 223 

And yet a great change has overtaken us ; 
and although we do not enjoy ourselves less, 
at least we take our pleasure differently. 
We need pickles nowadays to make Wednes- 
day's cold mutton please our Friday's appetite ; 
and I can remember the time when to call it 
red venison, and tell myself a hunter's story, 
would have made it more palatable than the 
best of sauces. To the grown person, cold 
mutton is cold mutton all the world over ; not 
all the mythology ever invented by man will 
make it better or worse to him ; the broad 
fact, the clamant reality, of the mutton carries 
away before it such seductive figments. But 
for the child it is still possible to weave an 
enchantment over eatables ; and if he has but 
read of a dish in a story-book, it will be 
heavenly manna to him for a week. 

If a grown man does not like eating and 
drinking and exercise, if he is not something 
positive in his tastes, it means he has a 
feeble body and should have some medicine ; 
but children may be pure spirits, if they will, 
and take their enjoyment in a world of moon- 

2 24 Child's Play 

shine. Sensation does not count for so much 
in our first years as afterwards ; something 
of the swaddling numbness of infancy clings 
about us ; we see and touch and hear through 
a sort of golden mist. Children, for instance, 
are able enough to see, but they have no 
great faculty for looking ; they do not use 
their eyes for the pleasure of using them, 
but for by-ends of their own ; and the things 
I call to mind seeing most vividly, were not 
beautiful in themselves, but merely interest- 
ing or enviable to me as I thought they 
might be turned to practical account in play. 
Nor is the sense of touch so clean and 
poignant in children as it is in a man. If 
you will turn over your old memories, I think 
the sensations of this sort you remember 
will be somewhat vague, and come to not 
much more than a blunt, general sense of heat 
on summer days, or a blunt, general sense of 
wellbeing in bed. And here, of course, you 
will understand pleasurable sensations ; for 
overmastering pain — the most deadly and 
tragical element in life, and the true com- 

Child's Play 225 

mander of man's soul and body — alas ! pain 
has its own way with all of us ; it breaks in, 
a rude visitant, upon the fairy garden where 
the child wanders in a dream, no less surely 
than it rules upon the field of battle, or 
sends the immortal war-god whimpering to 
his father ; and innocence, no more than 
philosophy, can protect us from this sting. 
As for taste, when we bear in mind the 
excesses of unmitigated sugar which delight 
a youthful palate, " it is surely no very 
cynical asperity" to think taste a character 
of the maturer growth. Smell and hearing 
are perhaps more developed ; I remember 
many scents, many voices, and a great deal 
of spring singing in the woods. But hearing 
is capable of vast improvement as a means 
of pleasure ; and there is all the world 
between gaping wonderment at the jargon 
of birds, and the emotion with which a man 
listens to articulate music. 

At the same time, and step by step with 
this increase in the definition and intensity 
of what we feel which accompanies our grow- 

226 Child's Play 

ing age, another change takes place in the 
sphere of intellect, by which all things are 
transformed and seen through theories and 
associations as through coloured windows. 
We make to ourselves day by day, out of 
history, and gossip, and economical specula- 
tions, and God knows what, a medium in 
which we walk and through which we look 
abroad. We study shop windows with other 
eyes than in our childhood, never to wonder, 
not always to admire, but to make and 
modify our little incongruous theories about 
life. It is no longer the uniform of a soldier 
that arrests our attention ; but perhaps the 
flowing carriage of a woman, or perhaps a 
countenance that has been vividly stamped 
with passion and carries an adventurous 
story written in its lines. The pleasure of 
surprise is passed away ; sugar -loaves and 
water-carts seem mighty tame to encounter ; 
and we walk the streets to make romances 
and to sociologise. Nor must we deny that 
a good many of us walk them solely for the 
purposes of transit or in the interest of a 

Child's Play 227 

livelier digestion. These, indeed, may look 
back with mingled thoughts upon their child- 
hood, but the rest are in a better case ; they 
know more than when they were children, 
they understand better, their desires and 
sympathies answer more nimbly to the pro- 
vocation of the senses, and their minds are 
brimming with interest as they go about the 

According to my contention, this is a 
flight to which children cannot rise. They 
are wheeled in perambulators or dragged 
about by nurses in a pleasing stupor. A 
vague, faint, abiding wonderment possesses 
them. Here and there some specially 
remarkable circumstance, such as a water- 
cart or a guardsman, fairly penetrates into 
the seat of thought and calls them, for half 
a moment, out of themselves ; and you may 
see them, still towed forward sideways by 
the inexorable nurse as by a sort of destiny, 
but still staring at the bright object in their 
wake. It may be some minutes before 
another such moving spectacle reawakens 

22 8 Child's Play 

them to the world in which they dwell. For 
other children, they almost invariably show 
some intelligent sympathy. " There is a 
fine fellow making mud pies," they seem to 
say ; " that I can understand, there is some 
sense in mud pies." But the doings of their 
elders, unless where they are speakingly 
picturesque or recommend themselves by the 
quality of being easily imitable, they let 
them go over their heads (as we say) without 
the least regard. If it were not for this 
perpetual imitation, we should be tempted 
to fancy they despised us outright, or only 
considered us in the light of creatures brutally 
strong and brutally silly ; among whom they 
condescended to dwell in obedience like a 
philosopher at a barbarous court. At times, 
indeed, they display an arrogance of dis- 
regard that is truly staggering. Once, when 
I was groaning aloud with physical pain, a 
young gentleman came into the room and 
nonchalantly inquired if I had seen his bow 
and arrow. He made no account of my 
groans, which he accepted, as he had to 

Child's Play 229 

accept so much else, as a piece of the in- 
explicable conduct of his elders ; and like a 
wise young gentleman, he would waste no 
wonder on the subject. Those elders, who 
care so little for rational enjoyment, and are 
even the enemies of rational enjoyment for 
others, he had accepted without understanding 
and without complaint, as the rest of us 
accept the scheme of the universe. 

We grown people can tell ourselves a 
story, give and take strokes until the bucklers 
ring, ride far and fast, marry, fall, and die ; 
all the while sitting quietly by the fire or 
lying prone in bed. This is exactly what a 
child cannot do, or does not do, at least, 
when he can rind anything else. He works 
all with lay figures and stage properties. 
When his story comes to the fighting, he 
must rise, get something by way of a sword 
and have a set-to with a piece of furniture, 
until he is out of breath. When he comes 
to ride with the king's pardon, he must 
bestride a chair, which he will so hurry and 
belabour and on which he will so furiously 

2 30 Child's Play 

demean himself, that the messenger will 
arrive, if not bloody with spurring, at least 
fiery red with haste. If his romance involves 
an accident upon a cliff, he must clamber in 
person about the chest of drawers and fall 
bodily upon the carpet, before his imagination 
is satisfied. Lead soldiers, dolls, all toys, in 
short, are in the same category and answer 
the same end. Nothing can stagger a child's 
faith; he accepts the clumsiest substitutes 
and can swallow the most staring incon- 
gruities. The chair he has just been besieging 
as a castle, or valiantly cutting to the ground 
as a dragon, is taken away for the accommoda- 
tion of a morning visitor, and he is nothing 
abashed ; he can skirmish by the hour with 
a stationary coal-scuttle ; in the midst of the 
enchanted pleasance, he can see, without 
sensible shock, the gardener soberly digging 
potatoes for the day's dinner. He can make 
abstraction of whatever does not fit into his 
fable ; and he puts his eyes into his pocket, 
just as we hold our noses in an unsavoury 
lane. And so it is, that although the ways 

Child's Play 231 

of children cross with those of their elders in 
a hundred places daily, they never go in the 
same direction nor so much as lie in the 
same element So may the telegraph wires 
intersect the line of the high-road, or so 
might a landscape painter and a bagman 
visit the same country, and yet move in 
different worlds. 

People struck with these spectacles, cry 
aloud about the power of imagination in the 
young. Indeed there may be two words to 
that. It is, in some ways, but a pedestrian 
fancy that the child exhibits. It is the 
grown people who make the nursery stories ; 
all the children do, is jealously to preserve 
the text. One out of a dozen reasons why 
Robinson Crusoe should be so popular with 
youth, is that it hits their level in this matter 
to a nicety ; Crusoe was always at makeshifts 
and had, in so many words, to play at a great 
variety of professions ; and then the book is 
all about tools, and there is nothing that 
delights a child so much. Hammers and 
saws belong to a province of life that positively 

232 Child's Play 

calls for imitation. The juvenile lyrical 
drama, surely of the most ancient Thespian 
model, wherein the trades of mankind are 
successively simulated to the running burthen 
" On a cold and frosty morning," gives a 
good instance of the artistic taste in children. 
And this need for overt action and lay figures 
testifies to a defect in the child's imagination 
which prevents him from carrying out his 
novels in the privacy of his own heart. He 
does not yet know enough of the world and 
men. His experience is incomplete. That 
stage- ward robe and scene-room that we call 
the memory is so ill provided, that he can 
overtake few combinations and body out few 
stories, to his own content, without some 
external aid. He is at the experimental 
stage ; he is not sure how one would feel in 
certain circumstances ; to make sure, he must 
come as near trying it as his means permit. 
And so here is young heroism with a wooden 
sword, and mothers practice their kind voca- 
tion over a bit of jointed stick. It may be 
laughable enough just now ; but it is these 

Child's Play 233 

same people and these same thoughts, that 
not long hence, when they are on the theatre 
of life, will make you weep and tremble. 
For children think very much the same 
thoughts and dream the same dreams, as 
bearded men and marriageable women. No 
one is more romantic. Fame and honour, 
the love of young men and the love of 
mothers, the business man's pleasure in 
method, all these and others they anticipate 
and rehearse in their play hours. Upon us, 
who are further advanced and fairly dealing 
with the threads of destiny, they only glance 
from time to time to glean a hint for their 
own mimetic reproduction. Two children 
playing at soldiers are far more interesting 
to each other than one of the scarlet beings 
whom both are busy imitating. This is 
perhaps the greatest oddity of all. " Art for 
art " is their motto ; and the doings of grown 
folk are only interesting as the raw material 
for play. Not Theophile Gautier, not Flau- 
bert, can look more callously upon life, or 
rate the reproduction more highly over the 

234 Child's Play 

reality ; and they will parody an execution, 
a deathbed, or the funeral of the young man 
of Nain, with all the cheerfulness in the 

The true parallel for play is not to be 
found, of course, in conscious art, which, 
though it be derived from play, is itself an 
abstract, impersonal thing, and depends 
largely upon philosophical interests beyond 
the scope of childhood. It is when we make 
castles in the air and personate the leading 
character in our own romances, that we 
return to the spirit of our first years. Only, 
there are several reasons why the spirit is no 
longer so agreeable to indulge. Nowadays, 
when we admit this personal element into 
our divagations we are apt to stir up uncom- 
fortable and sorrowful memories, and remind 
ourselves sharply of old wounds. Our day- 
dreams can no longer lie all in the air like a 
story in the Arabian Nights ; they read to 
us rather like the history of a period in which 
we ourselves had taken part, where we come 
across many unfortunate passages and find our 

Child's Play 235 

own conduct smartly reprimanded. And then 
the child, mind you, acts his parts. He does 
not merely repeat them to himself; he leaps, 
he runs, and sets the blood agog over all his 
body. And so his play breathes him ; and 
he no sooner assumes a passion than he gives 
it vent. Alas ! when we betake ourselves 
to our intellectual form of play, sitting quietly 
by the fire or lying prone in bed, we rouse 
many hot feelings for which we can find no 
outlet. Substitutes are not acceptable to 
the mature mind, which desires the thing 
itself; and even to rehearse a triumphant 
dialogue with one's enemy, although it is 
perhaps the most satisfactory piece of play 
still left within our reach, is not entirely 
satisfying, and is even apt to lead to a visit 
and an interview which may be the reverse 
of triumphant after all. 

In the child's world of dim sensation, play 
is all in all. " Making believe " is the gist 
of his whole life, and he cannot so much as 
take a walk except in character. I could 
not learn my alphabet without some suitable 

236 Child' s Play 

mise-en-scene, and had to act a business man 
in an office before I could sit down to my 
book. Will you kindly question your memory, 
and find out how much you did, work or 
pleasure, in good faith and soberness, and for 
how much you had to cheat yourself with 
some invention ? I remember, as though it 
were yesterday, the expansion of spirit, the 
dignity and self-reliance, that came with a 
pair of mustachios in burnt cork, even when 
there was none to see. Children are even 
content to forego what we call the realities, 
and prefer the shadow to the substance. 
When they might be speaking intelligibly 
together, they chatter senseless gibberish by 
the hour, and are quite happy because they 
are making believe to speak French. I have 
said already how even the imperious appetite 
of hunger suffers itself to be gulled and led 
by the nose with the fag end of an old song. 
And it goes deeper than this : when children 
are together even a meal is felt as an inter- 
ruption in the business of life ; and they 
must find some imaginative sanction, and 

Child's Play 237 

tell themselves some sort of story, to account 
for, to colour, to render entertaining, the 
simple processes of eating and drinking. 
What wonderful fancies I have heard evolved 
out of the pattern upon tea -cups ! — from 
which there followed a code of rules and a 
whole world of excitement, until tea-drinking 
began to take rank as a game. When my 
cousin and I took our porridge of a morning, 
we had a device to enliven the course of the 
meal. He ate his with sugar, and explained 
it to be a country continually buried under 
snow. I took mine with milk, and explained 
it to be a country suffering gradual inunda- 
tion. You can imagine us exchanging 
bulletins ; how here was an island still 
unsubmerged, here a valley not yet covered 
with snow ; what inventions were made ; 
how his population lived in cabins on perches 
and travelled on stilts, and how mine was 
always in boats ; how the interest grew 
furious, as the last corner of safe ground was 
cut off on all sides and grew smaller every 
moment ; and how, in fine, the food was of 

238 Child's Play 

altogether secondary importance, and might 
even have been nauseous, so long as we 
seasoned it with these dreams. But perhaps 
the most exciting moments I ever had over 
a meal, were in the case of calves' feet jelly. 
It was hardly possible not to believe — and 
you may be sure, so far from trying, I did 
all I could to favour the illusion — that some 
part of it was hollow, and that sooner or 
later my spoon would lay open the secret 
tabernacle of the golden rock. There, might 
some miniature Red Beard await his hour ; 
there, might one find the treasures of the 
Forty Thieves, and bewildered Cassim beat- 
ing about the walls. And so I quarried on 
slowly, with bated breath, savouring the 
interest. Believe me, I had little palate left 
for the jelly ; and though I preferred the 
taste when I took cream with it, I used often 
to go without, because the cream dimmed 
the transparent fractures. 

Even with games, this spirit is authori- 
tative with right-minded children. It is thus 
that hide-and-seek has so pre-eminent a 

ChilcCs Play 239 

sovereignty, for it is the wellspring of 
romance, and the actions and the excitement 
to which it gives rise lend themselves to 
almost any sort of fable. And thus cricket, 
which is a mere matter of dexterity, palpably 
about nothing and for no end, often fails to 
satisfy infantile craving. It is a game, if 
you like, but not a game of play. You 
cannot tell yourself a story about cricket ; 
and the activity it calls forth can be justi- 
fied on no rational theory. Even football, 
although it admirably simulates the tug and 
the ebb and flow of battle, has presented 
difficulties to the mind of young sticklers 
after verisimilitude ; and I knew at least one 
little boy who was mightily exercised about 
the presence of the ball, and had to spirit 
himself up, whenever he came to play, with 
an elaborate story of enchantment, and take 
the missile as a sort of talisman bandied 
about in conflict between two Arabian 

To think of such a frame of mind, is to 
become disquieted about the bringing up of 

240 Child[s Play 

children. Surely they dwell in a mytho- 
logical epoch, and are not the contemporaries 
of their parents. What can they think of 
them ? what can they make of these bearded 
or petticoated giants who look down upon 
their games? who move upon a cloudy 
Olympus, following unknown designs apart 
from rational enjoyment ? who profess the 
tenderest solicitude for children, and yet 
every now and again reach down out of their 
altitude and terribly vindicate the preroga- 
tives of age ? Off goes the child, corporally 
smarting, but morally rebellious. Were there 
ever such unthinkable deities as parents ? I 
would give a great deal to know what, in 
nine cases out of ten, is the child's unvar- 
nished feeling. A sense of past cajolery ; a 
sense of personal attraction, at best very 
feeble ; above all, I should imagine, a sense 
of terror for the untried residue of mankind : 
go to make up the attraction that he feels. 
No wonder, poor little heart, with such a 
weltering world in front of him, if he clings 
to the hand he knows ! The dread irration- 

Child's Play 241 

ality of the whole affair, as it seems to 
children, is a thing we are all too ready to 
forget. " O, why," I remember passionately 
wondering, "why can we not all be happy 
and devote ourselves to play?" And when 
children do philosophise, I believe it is 
usually to very much the same purpose. 

One thing, at least, comes very clearly out 
of these considerations ; that whatever we 
are to expect at the hands of children, it 
should not be any peddling exactitude about 
matters of fact. They walk in a vain show, 
and among mists and rainbows ; they are 
passionate after dreams and unconcerned 
about realities ; speech is a difficult art not 
wholly learned ; and there is nothing in their 
own tastes or purposes to teach them what 
we mean by abstract truthfulness. When a 
bad writer is inexact, even if he can look 
back on half a century of years, we charge 
him with incompetence and not with dis- 
honesty. And why not extend the same 
allowance to imperfect speakers ? Let a 
stockbroker be dead stupid about poetry, or 

242 Child's Play 

a poet inexact in the details of business, and 
we excuse them heartily from blame. But 
show us a miserable, unbreeched, human 
entity, whose whole profession it is to take a 
tub for a fortified town and a shaving-brush 
for the deadly stiletto, and who passes three- 
fourths of his time in a dream and the rest 
in open self-deception, and we expect him 
to be as nice upon a matter of fact as a 
scientific expert bearing evidence. Upon 
my heart, I think it less than decent. You 
do not consider how little the child sees, or 
how swift he is to weave what he has seen 
into bewildering fiction ; and that he cares 
no more for what you call truth, than you 
for a gingerbread dragoon. 

I am reminded, as I write, that the child 
is very inquiring as to the precise truth of 
stories. But indeed this is a very different 
matter, and one bound up with the subject of 
play, and the precise amount of playfulness, 
or playability, to be looked for in the world. 
Many such burning questions must arise in 
the course of nursery education. Among 

Child's Play 243 

the fauna of this planet, which already 
embraces the pretty soldier and the terrifying 
Irish beggarman, is, or is not, the child to 
expect a Bluebeard or a Cormoran ? Is he, 
or is he not, to look out for magicians, 
kindly and potent ? May he, or may he not, 
reasonably hope to be cast away upon a 
desert island, or turned to such diminutive 
proportions that he can live on equal terms 
with his lead soldiery, and go a cruise in his 
own toy schooner? Surely all these are 
practical questions to a neophyte entering 
upon life with a view to play. Precision 
upon such a point, the child can understand. 
But if you merely ask him of his past 
behaviour, as to who threw such a stone, for 
instance, or struck such and such a match ; 
or whether he had looked into a parcel or 
gone by a forbidden path, — why, he can see 
no moment in the inquiry, and it is ten to 
one, he has already half forgotten and half 
bemused himself with subsequent imaginings. 
It would be easy to leave them in their 
native cloudland, where they figure so prettily 

244 Child's Play 

— pretty like flowers and innocent like dogs. 
They will come out of their gardens soon 
enough, and have to go into offices and the 
witness-box. Spare them yet a while, O 
conscientious parent ! Let them doze among 
their playthings yet a little ! for who knows 
what a rough, warfaring existence lies before 
them in the future ? 


TT must not be imagined that a walking 
tour, as some would have us fancy, is 
merely a better or worse way of seeing the 
country. There are many ways of seeing 
landscape quite as good ; and none more 
vivid, in spite of canting dilettantes, than 
from a railway train. But landscape on a 
walking tour is quite accessory. He who is 
indeed of the brotherhood does not voyage 
in quest of the picturesque, but of certain 
jolly humours — of the hope and spirit with 
which the march begins at morning, and the 
peace and spiritual repletion of the evening's 
rest. He cannot tell whether he puts his 
knapsack on, or takes it off, with more 
delight. The excitement of the departure 
puts him in key for that of the arrival. 

246 Walking Tours 

Whatever he does is not only a reward in 
itself, but will be further rewarded in the 
sequel ; and so pleasure leads on to pleasure 
in an endless chain. It is this that so few 
can understand ; they will either be always 
lounging or always at five miles an hour ; 
they do not play off the one against the 
other, prepare all day for the evening, and 
all evening for the next day. And, above 
all, it is here that your overwalker fails of 
comprehension. His heart rises against those 
who drink their curagoa in liqueur glasses, 
when he himself can swill it in a brown John. 
He will not believe that the flavour is more 
delicate in the smaller dose. He will not 
believe that to walk this unconscionable 
distance is merely to stupefy and brutalise 
himself, and come to his inn, at night, with a 
sort of frost on his five wits, and a starless 
night of darkness in his spirit. Not for him 
the mild luminous evening of the temperate 
walker ! He has nothing left of man but a 
physical need for bedtime and a double 
nightcap ; and even his pipe, if he be a 

Walking Tours 247 

smoker, will be savourless and disenchanted. 
It is the fate of such an one to take twice as 
much trouble as is needed to obtain happi- 
ness, and miss the happiness in the end ; he 
is the man of the proverb, in short, who goes 
further and fares worse. 

Now, to be properly enjoyed, a walking 
tour should be gone upon alone. If you go 
in a company, or even in pairs, it is no longer 
a walking tour in anything but name ; it is 
something else and more in the nature of a 
picnic. A walking tour should be gone upon 
alone, because freedom is of the essence ; 
because you should be able to stop and go 
on, and follow this way or that, as the freak 
takes you ; and because you must have your 
own pace, an(i neither trot alongside a 
champion walker, nor mince in time with a 
girl. And then you must be open to all 
impressions and let your thoughts take colour 
from what you see. You should be as a 
pipe for any wind to play upon. " I cannot 
see the wit," says Hazlitt, "of walking and 
talking at the same time. When I am in 

248 Walking Toitrs 

the country I wish to vegetate like the 
country," — which is the gist of all that can 
be said upon the matter. There should be 
no cackle of voices at your elbow, to jar on 
the meditative silence of the morning. And 
so long as a man is reasoning he cannot 
surrender himself to that fine intoxication 
that comes of much motion in the open air, 
that begins in a sort of dazzle and sluggish- 
ness of the brain, and ends in a peace that 
passes comprehension. 

During the first day or so of any tour 
there are moments of bitterness, when the 
traveller feels more than coldly towards his 
knapsack, when he is half in a mind to throw 
it bodily over the hedge and, like Christian 
on a similar occasion, '' give three leaps and 
go on singing." And yet it soon acquires a 
property of easiness. It becomes magnetic ; 
the spirit of the journey enters into it. And 
no sooner have you passed the straps over 
your shoulder than the lees of sleep are 
cleared from you, you pull yourself together 
with a shake, and fall at once into your 

Walking Toitrs 249 

stride. And surely, of all possible moods, 
this, in which a man takes the road, is the 
best. Of course, if he will keep thinking of 
his anxieties, if he will open the merchant 
Abudah's chest and walk arm-in-arm with 
the hag — why, wherever he is, and whether 
he walk fast or slow, the chances are that he 
will not be happy. And so much the more 
shame to himself ! There are perhaps thirty 
men setting forth at that same hour, and I 
would lay a large wager there is not another 
dull face among the thirty. It would be a 
fine thing to follow, in a coat of darkness, 
one after another of these wayfarers, some 
summer morning, for the first few miles upon 
the road. This one, who walks fast, with a 
keen look in his eyes, is all concentrated in 
his own mind ; he is up at his loom, weaving 
and weaving, to set the landscape to words. 
This one peers about, as he goes, among the 
grasses ; he waits by the canal to watch the 
dragon-flies ; he leans on the gate of the 
pasture, and cannot look enough upon the 
complacent kine. And here comes another, 

2 50 Walking Tours 

talking, laughing, and gesticulating to himself. 
His face changes from time to time, as 
indignation flashes from his eyes or anger 
clouds his forehead. He is composing 
articles, delivering orations, and conducting 
the most impassioned interviews, by the 
way. A little farther on, and it is as like as 
not he will begin to sing. And well for 
him, supposing him to be no great master in 
that art, if he stumble across no stolid peasant 
at a corner ; for on such an occasion, I 
scarcely know which is the more troubled, or 
whether it is worse to suffer the confusion of 
your troubadour, or the unfeigned alarm of 
your clown. A sedentary population, accus- 
tomed, besides, to the strange mechanical 
bearing of the common tramp, can in no 
wise explain to itself the gaiety of these 
passers-by. I knew one man who was 
arrested as a runaway lunatic, because, al- 
though a full-grown person with a red beard, 
he skipped as he went like a child. And 
you would be astonished if I were to tell you 
all the grave and learned heads who have 

Walking Tours 251 

confessed to me that, when on walking tours, 
they sang — and sang very ill — and had a 
pair of red ears when, as described above, the 
inauspicious peasant plumped into their arms 
from round a corner. And here, lest you 
should think I am exaggerating, is Hazlitt's 
own confession, from his essay On Going a 
Journey^ which is so good that there should 
be a tax levied on all who have not read 
it: — 

" Give me the clear blue sky over my 
head," says he, " and the green turf beneath 
my feet, a winding road before me, and a 
three hours' march to dinner — and then to 
thinking ! It is hard if I cannot start some 
game on these lone heaths. I laugh, I run, 
I leap, I sing for joy." 

Bravo \ After that adventure of my friend 
with the policeman, you would not have 
cared, would you, to publish that in the first 
person ? But we have no bravery nowadays, 
and, even in books, must all pretend to be as 
dull and foolish as our neighbours. It was 
not so with Hazlitt. And notice how learned 

252 Walking Tours 

he is (as, indeed, throughout the essay) in 
the theory of walking tours. He is none of 
your athletic men in purple stockings, who 
walk their fifty miles a day : three hours* 
march is his ideal. And then he must have 
a winding road, the epicure ! 

Yet there is one thing I object to in these 
words of his, one thing in the great master's 
practice that seems to me not wholly wise. 
I do not approve of that leaping and running. 
Both of these hurry the respiration ; they 
both shake up the brain out of its glorious 
open-air confusion ; and they both break the 
pace. Uneven walking is not so agreeable 
to the body, and it distracts and irritates the 
mind. Whereas, when once you have fallen 
into an equable stride, it requires no conscious 
thought from you to keep it up, and yet it 
prevents you from thinking earnestly of 
anything else. Like knitting, like the work 
of a copying clerk, it gradually neutralises 
and sets to sleep the serious activity of the 
mind. We can think of this or that, lightly 
and laughingly, as a child thinks, or as we 

Walking Tours 253 

think in a morning dose ; we can make puns 
or puzzle out acrostics, and trifle in a thousand 
ways with words and rhymes ; but when it 
comes to honest work, when we come to 
gather ourselves together for an effort, we 
may sound the trumpet as loud and long as 
we please ; the great barons of the mind will 
not rally to the standard, but sit, each one, 
at home, warming his hands over his own 
fire and brooding on his own private thought ! 
In the course of a day's walk, you see, 
there is much variance in the mood. From 
the exhilaration of the start, to the happy 
phlegm of the arrival, the change is certainly 
great. As the day goes on, the traveller 
moves from the one extreme towards the 
other. He becomes more and more incor- 
porated with the material landscape, and the 
open-air drunkenness grows upon him with 
great strides, until he posts along the road, 
and sees everything about him, as in a cheer- 
ful dream. The first is certainly brighter, 
but the second stage is the more peaceful. 
A man does not make so many articles to- 

2 54 Walking Tours 

wards the end, nor does he laugh aloud ; but 
the purely animal pleasures, the sense of 
physical wellbeing, the delight of every in- 
halation, of every time the muscles tighten 
down the thigh, console him for the absence 
of the others, and bring him to his destination 
still content. 

Nor must I forget to say a word on 
bivouacs. You come to a milestone on a 
hill, or some place where deep ways meet 
under trees ; and off goes the knapsack, and 
down you sit to smoke a pipe in the shade. 
You sink into yourself, and the birds come 
round and look at you ; and your smoke 
dissipates upon the afternoon under the blue 
dome of heaven ; and the sun lies warm upon 
your feet, and the cool air visits your neck 
and turns aside your open shirt. If you are 
not happy, you must have an evil conscience. 
You may dally as long as you like by the 
roadside. It is almost as if the millennium 
were arrived, when we shall throw our clocks 
and watches over the housetop, and remember 
time and seasons no more. Not to keep 

Walking Tours 255 

hours for a lifetime is, I was going to say, to 
live for ever. You have no idea, unless you 
have tried it, how endlessly long is a summer's 
day, that you measure out only by hunger, 
and bring to an end only when you are 
drowsy. I know a village where there are 
hardly any clocks, where no one knows more 
of the days of the week than by a sort of 
instinct for the fete on Sundays, and where 
only one person can tell you the day of the 
month, and she is generally wrong ; and if 
people were aware how slow Time journeyed 
in that village, and what armfuls of spare 
hours he gives, over and above the bargain, 
to its wise inhabitants, I believe there would 
be a stampede out of London, Liverpool, 
Paris, and a variety of large towns, where the 
clocks lose their heads, and shake the hours 
out each one faster than the other, as though 
they were all in a wager. And all these 
foolish pilgrims would each bring his own 
misery along with him, in a watch-pocket! 
It is to be noticed, there were no clocks and 
watches in the much-vaunted days before the 

256 Walking Tours 

flood. It follows, of course, there were no 
appointments, and punctuality was not yet 
thought upon. "Though ye take from a 
covetous man all his treasure," says Milton, 
" he has yet one jewel left ; ye cannot deprive 
him of his covetousness." And so I would 
say of a modern man of business, you may 
do what you will for him, put him in Eden, 
give him the elixir of life — he has still a flaw 
at heart, he still has his business habits. 
Now, there is no time when business habits 
are more mitigated than on a walking tour. 
And so during these halts, as I say, you will 
feel almost free. 

But it is at night, and after dinner, that 
the best hour comes. There are no such 
pipes to be smoked as those that follow a 
good day's march ; the flavour of the tobacco 
is a thing to be remembered, it is so dry and 
aromatic, so full and so fine. If you wind 
up the evening with grog, you will own there 
was never such grog ; at every sip a jocund 
tranquillity spreads about your limbs, and 
sits easily in your heart. If you read a book 

Walking Tours 257 

— and you will never do so save by fits and 
starts — you find the language strangely racy 
and harmonious ; words take a new meaning ; 
single sentences possess the ear for half an 
hour together ; and the writer endears him- 
self to you, at every page, by the nicest 
coincidence of sentiment. It seems as if it 
were a book you had written yourself in a 
dream. To all we have read on such occa- 
sions we look back with special favour. " It 
was on the loth of April, 1798," says Hazlitt, 
with amorous precision, " that I sat down to 
a volume of the new HeloisCy at the Inn at 
Llangollen, over a bottle of sherry and a 
cold chicken." I should wish to quote more, 
for though we are mighty fine fellows nowa- 
days, we cannot write like Hazlitt. And, 
talking of that, a volume of Hazlitt's essays 
would be a capital pocket-book on such a 
journey ; so would a volume of Heine's 
songs ; and for Tristram Shandy I can pledge 
a fair experience. 

If the evening be fine and warm, there is 
nothing better in life than to lounge before 

258 Walking Tours 

the inn door in the sunset, or lean over the 
parapet of the bridge, to watch the weeds 
and the quick fishes. It is then, if ever, that 
you taste Joviality to the full significance of 
that audacious word. Your muscles are so 
agreeably slack, you feel so clean and so 
strong and so idle, that whether you move or 
sit still, whatever you do is done with pride 
and a kingly sort of pleasure. You fall in 
talk with any one, wise or foolish, drunk or 
sober. And it seems as if a hot walk purged 
you, more than of anything else, of all 
narrowness and pride, and left curiosity to 
play its part freely, as in a child or a man of 
science. You lay aside all your own hobbies, 
to watch provincial humours develop them- 
selves before you, now as a laughable farce, 
and now grave and beautiful like an old 

Or perhaps you are left to your own 
company for the night, and surly weather 
imprisons you by the fire. You may re- 
member how Burns, numbering past plea- 
sures, dwells upon the hours when he has 

Walking Tours 259 

been " happy thinking." It is a phrase that 
may well perplex a poor modern, girt about 
on every side by clocks and chimes, and 
haunted, even at night, by flaming dial-plates. 
For we are all so busy, and have so many 
far-off projects to realise, and castles in the 
fire to turn into solid habitable mansions on 
a gravel soil, that we can find no time for 
pleasure trips into the Land of Thought and 
among the Hills of Vanity. Changed times, 
indeed, when v/e must sit all night, beside 
the fire, with folded hands ; and a changed 
world for most of us, when we find we can 
pass the hours without discontent, and be 
happy thinking. We are in such haste to 
be doing, to be writing, to be gathering gear, 
to make our voice audible a moment in the 
derisive silence of eternity, that we forget 
that one thing, of which these are but the 
parts — namely, to live. We fall in love, we 
drink hard, we run to and fro upon the earth 
like frightened sheep. And now you are to 
ask yourself if, when all is done, you would 
not have been better to sit by the fire at 

26o Walking Tours 

home, and be happy thinking. To sit still 
and contemplate, — to remember the faces of 
women without desire, to be pleased by the 
great deeds of men without envy, to be 
everything and everywhere in sympathy, and 
yet content to remain where and what you 
are — is not this to know both wisdom and 
virtue, and to dwell with happiness ? After 
all, it is not they who carry flags, but they 
who look upon it from a private chamber, 
who have the fun of the procession. And 
once you are at that, you are in the very 
humour of all social heresy. It is no time 
for shuffling, or for big, empty words. If 
you ask yourself what you mean by fame, 
riches, or learning, the answer is far to seek ; 
and you go back into that kingdom of light 
imaginations, which seem so vain in the eyes 
of Philistines perspiring after wealth, and so 
momentous to those who are stricken with 
the disproportions of the world, and, in the 
face of the gigantic stars, cannot stop to split 
differences between two degrees of the infini- 
tesimally small, such as a tobacco pipe or 

Walking Tours 261 

the Roman Empire, a million of money or a 
fiddlestick's end. 

You lean from the window, your last pipe 
reeking whitely into the darkness, your body 
full of delicious pains, your mind enthroned 
in the seventh circle of content ; when 
suddenly the mood changes, the weather- 
cock goes about, and you ask yourself one 
question more : whether, for the interval, you 
have been the wisest philosopher or the most 
egregious of donkeys ? Human experience 
is not yet able to reply ; but at least you 
have had a fine moment, and looked down 
upon all the kingdoms of the earth. And 
whether it was wise or foolish, to-morrow's 
travel will carry you, body and mind, into 
some different parish of the infinite. 


nPHE world in which we live has been 
variously said and sung by the most 
ingenious poets and philosophers : these 
reducing it to formulae and chemical in- 
gredients, those striking the lyre in high- 
sounding measures for the handiwork of 
God. What experience supplies is of a 
mingled tissue, and the choosing mind has 
much to reject before it can get together 
the materials of a theory. Dew and thunder, 
destroying Atilla and the Spring lambkins, 
belong to an order of contrasts which no 
repetition can assimilate. There is an un- 
couth, outlandish strain throughout the web 
of the world, as from a vexatious planet in 
the house of life. Things are not congruous 
and wear strange disguises : the consummate 

Pafis Pipes 263 

flower is fostered out of dung, and after 
nourishing itself awhile with heaven's delicate 
distillations, decays again into indistinguish- 
able soil ; and with Caesar's ashes, Hamlet 
tells us, the urchins make dirt pies and 
filthily besmear their countenance. Nay, 
the kindly shine of summer, when tracked 
home with the scientific spyglass, is found 
to issue from the most portentous nightmare 
of the universe — the great, conflagrant sun : 
a world of hell's squibs, tumultuary, roaring 
aloud, inimical to life. The sun itself is 
enough to disgust a human being of the 
scene which he inhabits ; and you would not 
fancy there was a green or habitable spot in 
a universe thus awfully lighted up. And yet 
it is by the blaze of such a conflagration, to 
which the fire of Rome was but a spark,^ 
that we do all our fiddling, and hold domestic 
tea-parties at the arbour door. 

The Greeks figured Pan, the god of Nature, 
now terribly stamping his foot, so that armies 
were dispersed ; now by the woodside on a 
summer noon trolling on his pipe until he 

264 Pans Pipes 

charmed the hearts of upland ploughmen. 
And the Greeks, in so figuring, uttered the 
last word of human experience. To certain 
smoke-dried spirits matter and motion and 
elastic aethers, and the hypothesis of this or 
that other spectacled professor, tell a speak- 
ing story ; but for youth and all ductile and 
congenial minds, Pan is not dead, but of all 
the classic hierarchy alone survives in triumph ; 
goat -footed, with a gleeful and an angry 
look, the type of the shaggy world : and in 
every wood, if you go with a spirit properly 
prepared, you shall hear the note of his 

For it is a shaggy world, and yet studded 
with gardens ; where the salt and tumbling 
sea receives clear rivers running from among 
reeds and lilies ; fruitful and austere ; a 
rustic world ; sunshiny, lewd, and cruel. 
What is it the birds sing among the trees 
in pairing - time ? What means the sound 
of the rain falling far and wide upon the 
leafy forest ? To what tune does the fisher- 
man whistle, as he hauls in his net at morning, 

Pans Pipes 265 

and the bright fish are heaped inside the 
boat ? These are all airs upon Pan's pipe ; 
he it was who gave them breath in the 
exultation of his heart, and gleefully modu- 
lated their outflow with his lips and fingers. 
The coarse mirth of herdsmen, shaking the 
dells with laughter and striking out high 
echoes from the rock ; the tune of moving 
feet in the lamplit city, or on the smooth 
ballroom floor ; the hooves of many horses, 
beating the wide pastures in alarm ; the 
song of hurrying rivers ; the colour of clear 
skies ; and smiles and the live touch of 
hands ; and the voice of things, and their 
significant look, and the renovating influence 
they breathe forth — these are his joyful 
measures, to which the whole earth treads in 
choral harmony. To this music the young 
lambs bound as to a tabor, and the London 
shop-girl skips rudely in the dance. For 
it puts a spirit of gladness in all hearts ; 
and to look on the happy side of nature is 
common, in their hours, to all created things. 
Some are vocal under a good influence, are 

^66 Pans Pipes 

pleasing whenever they are pleased, and hand 
on their happiness to others, as a child who, 
looking upon lovely things, looks lovely. 
Some leap to the strains with unapt foot, 
and make a halting figure in the universal 
dance. And some, like sour spectators at 
the play, receive the music into their hearts 
with an unmoved countenance, and walk 
like strangers through the general rejoicing. 
But let him feign never so carefully, there 
is not a man but has his pulses shaken when 
Pan trolls out a stave of ecstasy and sets 
the world a-singing. 

Alas if that were all ! But oftentimes the 
air is changed ; and in the screech of the 
night wind, chasing navies, subverting the 
tall ships and the rooted cedar of the hills ; 
in the random deadly levin or the fury of 
headlong floods, we recognise the "dread 
foundation " of life and the anger in Pan's 
heart. Earth wages open war against her 
children, and under her softest touch hides 
treacherous claws. The cool waters invite 
us in to dro\yn ; the domestic hearth burns 

Pans Pipes 267 

up in the hour of sleep, and makes an end 
of all. Everything is good or bad, helpful 
or deadly, not in itself, but by its circum- 
stances. For a few bright days in England 
the hurricane must break forth and the 
North Sea pay a toll of populous ships. 
And when the universal music has led lovers 
into the paths of dalliance, confident of 
Nature's sympathy, suddenly the air shifts 
into a minor, and death makes a clutch from 
his ambuscade below the bed of marriage. 
For death is given in a kiss ; the dearest 
kindnesses are fatal ; and into this life, where 
one thing preys upon another, the child too 
often makes its entrance from the mother's 
corpse. It is no wonder, with so traitorous 
a scheme of things, if the wise people who 
created for us the idea of Pan thought that 
of all fears the fear of him was the most 
terrible, since it embraces all. And still we 
preserve the phrase : a panic terror. To 
reckon dangers too curiously, to hearken too 
intently for the threat that runs through all 
the winning music of the world, to hold back 

268 Pans Pipes 

the hand from the rose because of the thorn, 
and from life because of death : this it is to 
be afraid of Pan. Highly respectable citizens 
who flee life's pleasures and responsibilities 
and keep, with upright hat, upon the midway 
of custom, avoiding the right hand and the 
left, the ecstasies and the agonies, how sur- 
prised they would be if they could hear 
their attitude mythologically expressed, and 
knew themselves as tooth -chattering ones, 
who flee from Nature because they fear the 
hand of Nature's God ! Shrilly sound Pan's 
pipes ; and behold the banker instantly 
concealed in the bank parlour! For to 
distrust one's impulses is to be recreant to 

There are moments when the mind refuses 
to be satisfied with evolution, and demands 
a ruddier presentation of the sum of man's 
experience. Sometimes the mood is brought 
about by laughter at the humorous side of 
life, as when, abstracting ourselves from 
earth, we imagine people plodding on foot, 
or seated in ships and speedy trains, with the 

Pans Pipes 269 

planet all the while whirling in the opposite 
direction, so that, for all their hurry, they 
travel back-foremost through the universe of 
space. Sometimes it comes by the spirit of 
delight, and sometimes by the spirit of terror. 
At least, there will always be hours when 
we refuse to be put off by the feint of 
explanation, nicknamed science; and demand 
instead some palpitating image of our estate, 
that shall represent the troubled and un- 
certain element in which we dwell, and 
satisfy reason by the means of art. Science 
writes of the world as if with the cold finger 
of a starfish ; it is all true ; but what is it 
when compared to the reality of which it 
discourses ? where hearts beat high in April, 
and death strikes, and hills totter in the 
earthquake, and there is a glamour over all 
the objects of sight, and a thrill in all noises 
for the ear, and Romance herself has made 
her dwelling among men ? So we come 
back to the old myth, and hear the goat- 
footed piper making the music which is itself 
the charm and terror of things ; and when 

270 Pans Pipes 

a glen invites our visiting footsteps, fancy- 
that Pan leads us thither with a gracious 
tremolo ; or when our hearts quail at the 
thunder of the cataract, tell ourselves that 
he has stamped his hoof in the nigh thicket. 


^ITIES given, the problem was to light 
them. How to conduct individual 
citizens about the burgess-warren, when once 
heaven had withdrawn its leading luminary? 
or — since we live in a scientific age — when 
once our spinning planet has turned its back 
upon the sun? The moon, from time to 
time, was doubtless very helpful ; the stars 
had a cheery look among the chimney-pots ; 
and a cresset here and there, on church or 
citadel, produced a fine pictorial effect, and, 
in places where the ground lay unevenly, held 
out the right hand of conduct to the benighted. 
But sun, moon, and stars abstracted or con- 
cealed, the night -faring inhabitant had to 
fall back — we speak on the authority of old 
prints — upon stable lanthorns, two stories in 

2/2 A Plea for Gas Lamps 

height. Many holes, drilled in the conical 
turret-roof of this vagabond Pharos, let up 
spouts of dazzlement into the bearer's eyes ; 
and as he paced forth in the ghostly dark- 
ness, carrying his own sun by a ring about 
his finger, day and night swung to and fro 
and up and down about his footsteps. 
Blackness haunted his path ; he was be- 
leaguered by goblins as he went ; and, curfew 
being struck, he found no light but that he 
travelled in throughout the township. 

Closely fallowing on this epoch of migra- 
tory lanthorns in a world of extinction, came 
the era of oil-lights, hard to kindle, easy to 
extinguish, pale and wavering in the hour of 
their endurance. Rudely puffed the winds 
of heaven ; roguishly clomb up the all-de- 
structive urchin ; and, lo ! in a moment night 
re-established her void empire, and the cit 
groped along the wall, suppered but bedless, 
occult from guidance, and sorrily wading in 
the kennels. As if gamesome winds and 
gamesome youths were not sufficient, it was 
the habit to sling these feeble luminaries 

A Plea for Gas Lamps 273 

from house to house above the fairway. 
There, on invisible cordage, let them swing ! 
And suppose some crane-necked general to 
go speeding by on a tall charger, spurring the 
destiny of nations, red-hot in expedition, 
there would indubitably be some effusion of 
military blood, and oaths, and a certain crash 
of glass ; and while the chieftain rode for- 
ward with a purple coxcomb, the street 
would be left to original darkness, unpiloted, 
unvoyageable, a province of the desert night. 
The conservative, looking before and after, 
draws from each contemplation the matter 
for content. Out of the age of gas lamps 
he glances back slightingly at the mirk and 
glimmer in which his ancestors wandered ; 
his heart waxes jocund at the contrast ; nor 
do his lips refrain from a stave, in the highest 
style of poetry, lauding progress and the 
golden mean. When gas first spread along 
a city, mapping it forth about evenfall for 
the eye of observant birds, a new age had 
begun for sociality and corporate pleasure- 
seeking, and begun with proper circumstance, 

2 74 A Plea for Gas Lamps 

becoming its Own birthright The work of 
Prometheus had advanced by another stride. 
Mankind and its supper parties were no 
longer at the mercy of a few miles of sea- 
fog ; sundown no longer emptied the pro- 
menade ; and the day was lengthened out to 
every man's fancy. The city- folk had stars 
of their own ; biddable, domesticated stars. 

It is true that these were not so steady, 
nor yet so clear, as their originals ; nor indeed 
was their lustre so elegant as that of the best 
wax candles. But then the gas stars, being 
nearer at hand, were more practically effica- 
cious than Jupiter himself It is true, again, 
that they did not unfold their rays with the 
appropriate spontaneity of the planets, coming 
out along the firmament one after another, 
as the need arises. But the lamplighters 
took to their heels every evening, and ran 
with a good heart. It was pretty to see 
man thus emulating the punctuality of 
heaven's orbs ; and though perfection was 
not absolutely reached, and now and then an 
individual may have been knocked on the 

A Plea for Gas Lamps 275 

head by the ladder of the flying functionary, 
yet people commended his zeal in a proverb, 
and taught their children to say, " God bless 
the lamplighter!" And since his passage 
was a piece of the day's programme, the 
children were well pleased to repeat the 
benediction, not, of course, in so many 
words, which would have been improper, but 
in some chaste circumlocution, suitable for 
infant lips. 

God bless him, indeed ! For the term of 
his twilight diligence is near at hand ; and 
for not much longer shall we watch him 
speeding up the street and, at measured 
intervals, knocking another luminous hole 
into the dusk. The Greeks would have 
made a noble myth of such an one ; how he 
distributed starlight, and, as soon as the 
need was over, re-collected it ; and the little 
bull's-eye, which was his instrument, and 
held enough fire to kindle a whole parish, 
would have been fitly commemorated in the 
legend. Now, like all heroic tasks, his 
labours draw towards apotheosis, and in the 

276 A Plea for Gas Lamps 

light of victory himself shall disappear. For ' 
another advance has been effected. Our 
tame stars are to come out in future, not 
one by one, but all in a body and at once. 
A sedate electrician somewhere in a back 
office touches a spring — and behold ! from 
one end to another of the city, from east to 
west, from the Alexandra to the Crystal 
Palace, there is light ! Fiat Lztx^ says the 
sedate electrician. What a spectacle, on 
some clear, dark nightfall, from the edge of 
Hampstead Hill, when in a moment, in the 
twinkling of an eye, the design of the 
monstrous city flashes into vision — a glitter- 
ing hieroglyph many square miles in extent ; 
and when, to borrow and debase an image, 
all the evening street-lamps burst together 
into song ! Such is the spectacle of the 
future, preluded the other day by the experi- 
ment in Pall Mall. Star-rise by electricity, 
the most romantic flight of civilisation ; the 
compensatory benefit for an innumerable 
array of factories and bankers' clerks. To 
the artistic spirit exercised about Thirlmere, 

A Plea for Gas Lamps 277 

here is a crumb of consolation ; consolatory, 
at least, to such of them as look out upon 
the world through seeing eyes, and con- 
tentedly accept beauty where it comes. 

But the conservative, while lauding pro- 
gress, is ever timid of innovation ; his is the 
hand upheld to counsel pause ; his is the 
signal advising slow advance. The word 
electricity now sounds the note of danger. 
In Paris, at the mouth of the Passage des 
Princes, in the place before the Opera portico, 
and in the Rue Drouot at the Figaro office, 
a new sort of urban star now shines out 
nightly, horrible, unearthly, obnoxious to the 
human eye ; a lamp for a nightmare ! Such 
a light as this should shine only on murders 
and public crime, or along the corridors of 
lunatic asylums, a horror to heighten horror. 
To look at it only once is to fall in love 
with gas, which gives a warm domestic 
radiance fit to eat by. Mankind, you would 
have thought, might have remained content 
with what Prometheus stole for them and 
not gone fishing the profound heaven with 

2^8 A Plea for Gas Lamps 

kites to catch and domesticate the wildfire 
of the storm. Yet here we have the levin 
brand at our doors, and it is proposed that 
we should henceforward take our walks 
abroad in the glare of permanent lightning. 
A man need not be very superstitious if he 
scruple to follow his pleasures by the light of 
the Terror that Flieth, nor very epicurean if 
he prefer to see the face of beauty more 
becomingly displayed. That ugly blinding 
glare may not improperly advertise the 
home of slanderous Figaro^ which is a back- 
shop to the infernal regions ; but where soft 
joys prevail, where people are convoked to 
pleasure and the philosopher looks on smiling 
and silent, where love and laughter and 
deifying wine abound, there, at least, let the 
old mild lustre shine upon the ways of man. 


Printed by R. & R. Clark, Edinhurgh